Does Medicare Cover Dementia Care?

by David Bynon, last updated

Navigating the complexities of dementia care for a loved one is an emotionally challenging journey. As cognitive abilities decline, the need for specialized care becomes increasingly apparent, raising questions and uncertainties for caretakers.

Among these uncertainties, understanding how Medicare benefits intersect with dementia care is crucial. Coverage significantly impacts the quality of care and the financial burden on families.

This article delves into the intricate landscape of Medicare coverage for dementia care, shedding light on what services are included and what gaps may exist. Additionally, we explore essential considerations often overlooked in discussions about dementia care, providing comprehensive insights for families navigating this complex terrain.

Key Takeaways

  • Medicare and Medicaid cover different services for dementia patients. Some services covered by one program may not be covered by the other.
  • Medicare will pay for some services during all stages of dementia care, including cognitive assessments, home safety evaluations, planning for care, hospital stays, and durable medical equipment.
  • Additional services may be available through Medicare, depending on the type of dementia.
  • Medicare pays for hospice care in the home, a skilled nursing care facility or an inpatient hospice setting for people with dementia who are near end of life.
  • Medicare Part D helps pay for the drugs your doctor prescribes for dementia.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a group of symptoms caused by damaged synaptic nerves in your brain, which can affect much of your cognitive functions, including:1CDC.gov, “What Is Dementia?“, Accessed November 23, 2021

  • Memory impairment
  • Concentration on a task
  • Inappropriate social communication
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Inability to recognize familiar places

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. This condition occurs when protein strands in your brain break down into plaque clusters, disrupting brain cell communication. This causes your brain cells to die and shrinks your brain.2mayoclinic.org, “Alzheimer’s disease“, Accessed November 23, 2021

Alzheimer’s affects approximately 5.8 million Americans over the age of 65. About 80% of those with Alzheimer’s disease are over 75 years old. It is estimated that 60-70 percent of the 50 million people with dementia symptoms around the world have Alzheimer’s disease.2mayoclinic.org, “Alzheimer’s disease“, Accessed November 23, 2021

How Do Medicare and Medicaid Cover Dementia Care?

For people diagnosed with dementia, Medicare and Medicaid cover different services. Some services are covered by one program but not the other. Here’s a quick look at what each program covers.3CMS.gov, “Medicare and Medicaid Benefits for People with Dementia“, Accessed November 23, 2021

Dementia Care Screening

Starting from January 2011, Medicare includes cognitive impairment assessments as a component of its yearly Medicare wellness visit. This service is offered free of charge and is not subject to the Part B deductible or coinsurance.

During the examination, your doctor evaluates your cognitive function through direct observation and discussions and often administers a memory test. If your doctor detects abnormalities, Medicare Part B covers a separate appointment with your primary care physician or specialist to assess your cognitive function, confirm any diagnosis, and develop a comprehensive care plan. This visit is subject to the Part B deductible and a 20 percent coinsurance.

Dementia Tests

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia requires a comprehensive approach, as no single test can provide a definitive diagnosis. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, physicians rely on a combination of diagnostic tools, medical history, and additional information, including blood or cerebrospinal fluid tests, brain imaging such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, as well as cognitive and functional assessments and neurological exams.

Medicare Part B typically covers diagnostic testing, subject to a deductible and 20 percent coinsurance. However, additional conditions may need to be met before Medicare will cover these tests.

For instance, PET scans can help identify the presence of beta-amyloid plaques or tau tangles in the brain, which are indicative of Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, Medicare only covered one brain amyloid PET scan per lifetime for individuals enrolled in a clinical trial. However, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) eliminated these limits in October 2023.

This rule change is particularly significant as Medicare requires evidence of amyloid plaques before covering certain newer Alzheimer’s medications, such as Leqembi, which received full FDA approval in July 2023.

Home Health Services

In the early stages of dementia, many people benefit from being at home. For this reason, Medicare covers some home healthcare services.

Medicare Part A covers up to 35 hours a week of home health care for people certified as “homebound”4Medicare.gov, “Medicare & Home Health Care“, Accessed November 23, 2021. Medicaid will pay for in-home care if, without that in-home care, the person would require care in a nursing home5Medicaid.gov, “Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly Benefits“, Accessed November 23, 2021.

Activities of Daily Living

When contemplating home care for your loved one, it’s important to note that Medicare typically does not cover homemaking tasks or assistance with activities of daily living if they are the sole care needed. While Medicare may occasionally cover custodial care services, this is usually only alongside medically necessary home health services, such as sterile dressings or physical therapy.

Adult Day Centers

Medicaid covers adult day care programs, which offer activities and may offer meals and transportation. These centers also provide relief for caregivers.5Medicaid.gov, “Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly Benefits“, Accessed November 23, 2021

Nursing Home Care

In the later stages of dementia, people often need more care and are unable to live at home. At this point, 24-hour care may be necessary. Medicare’s coverage is limited.

Medicare does not include coverage for custodial care, which entails assistance with daily activities like bathing, dressing, and eating, in nursing homes, assisted living centers, or memory care units if that is the sole care required. It does provide coverage for up to 100 days in a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation following a three-day inpatient hospital stay, if daily skilled nursing, occupational therapy, or physical therapy related to the hospital stay is necessary.6medicare.gov, “Skilled nursing facility (SNF) care“, Accessed November 23, 2023

Medicaid covers memory care units in nursing homes. Staff in these units have specialized training in caring for people with dementia.7nia.nih.gov, “Finding Long-Term Care for a Person with Alzheimer’s“, Accessed November 23, 2023

Medicare will pay for hospice care for people who have been determined to have less than 6 months to live. Hospice care includes doctor, nursing, and personal care; prescription drugs; and counseling for patient and family.8Medicare.gov, “Hospice care“, Accessed November 23, 2023

Dementia Coverage through a Medicare Advantage Plan

If you choose a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare Part C, rather than Original Medicare health insurance, you are guaranteed the same coverage as Original Medicare. However, prior authorization requirements may exist before receiving certain services or medications. Most Medicare Advantage plans have a provider network, which means you may have to pay more or all costs if you use a provider not in your plan’s network. In contrast to those limitations, many Medicare Advantage plans provide additional coverage, such as transportation to doctor’s appointments and meal delivery.

Dementia Coverage with a Medicare Supplement

Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) works with Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) to cover out-of-pocket costs. These include deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance costs.

In all but three states (Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) there are ten standardized plans (A through N). Each plan offers a different level of coverage.

Unlike Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare Supplements do not provide additional services. If Medicare does not cover a particular service, a Medigap plan can’t cover it, either. This includes long-term nursing home care and assisted living facility care.

Special Needs Plans (SNPs)

Medicare offers Special Needs Plans (SNPs) tailored specifically for individuals with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. These SNPs are Medicare Advantage plans designed to provide specialized care and coverage for beneficiaries living with dementia.

Enrollment in SNP plans is exclusively available to Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with dementia. For further details on Medicare SNPs, please visit our Special Needs Plans page which includes a Medicare Plan Finder tool.

Explore Alternative Therapies and Interventions

Alternative therapies and interventions have shown promise in enhancing the quality of life for individuals living with dementia. While there is no cure for the condition, these approaches offer valuable avenues for managing symptoms and promoting well-being.

Music therapy has shown effectiveness in stimulating memories, reducing agitation, and improving mood in patients with dementia. Using personalized playlists and interactive sessions, patients can reconnect with memories and experiences, fostering a sense of joy and connection.

Art therapy provides a creative outlet for expression, allowing patients to communicate feelings and emotions. These activities may also promote relaxation, stimulate cognitive function, and instill a sense of accomplishment, all of which contribute to overall psychological well-being.

By incorporating alternative therapies and interventions into dementia care plans, families can tap into innovative approaches that enrich the lives of their loved ones and provide meaningful experiences.

Advanced Care Directives

Advanced care directives are helpful tools for individuals with dementia and their families. They ensure the patient’s wishes for medical care and end-of-life decisions are honored as their cognitive abilities decline.

These directives, which may include documents such as living wills and healthcare proxies, allow individuals to specify their preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments, resuscitation efforts, and other medical interventions. By outlining their healthcare wishes in advance, dementia patients can maintain autonomy and control over their medical care, even if they become unable to communicate.

Advanced care directives also guide family members and healthcare providers, reducing uncertainty and potential conflicts. By discussing and documenting their preferences early on, individuals can ensure their wishes are respected.

Caregiver Support and Respite Services

Caregiver support and respite services are essential components of dementia care, offering much-needed relief and assistance to those who tirelessly care for their loved ones. Providing care for someone with dementia can be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding, often leading to caregiver burnout and compromised well-being.

Access to support services such as counseling, support groups, and educational resources can help caregivers navigate the challenges they face, offering guidance, validation, and a sense of community. Additionally, respite services provide caregivers with temporary breaks from their caregiving responsibilities, allowing them to rest, recharge, and attend to their own needs. By prioritizing caregiver support and respite services, families can ensure that caregivers receive the assistance and support they need to sustain their caregiving roles effectively.

Community Resources and Support Groups

Community resources and support groups help individuals and families navigating the complexities of dementia care. These resources offer a network of support, information, and practical assistance that can alleviate the challenges associated with caring for someone with dementia.

Support groups provide a safe space for caregivers to share their experiences, exchange advice, and gain emotional support from others who understand the unique demands of caregiving. Additionally, community organizations often provide educational workshops, training sessions, and access to professional services, empowering caregivers with the knowledge and tools they need to provide the best possible care for their loved ones.

By connecting with community resources and support groups, caregivers can find solace, guidance, and a sense of belonging in their caregiving journey.

Tips for a Successful Transition to a Memory Care Facility

If your parent is in the early stages of dementia and memory loss isn’t yet a problem, begin talking about the move. Describe the memory care facility, the staff, and what it will be like living there. Only talk about the living facility’s positive aspects by saying it will make life so much better.

If memory loss is a concern, save the talk for when the move is about to happen. Spend quite a bit of time before the move discussing what it’s like and what will happen in the next few minutes. Do not rush the move at all. Talk about it as much as possible until it feels like the right time to get into the car and drive to the facility.

Visit the Facility

Visiting the memory care facility a few times before the move is a great way to help your parent feel more comfortable with the process. If it’s possible to participate in events and activities at the facility, that would be another good way to help your parent become part of the community before moving.

Most facilities won’t have a problem having someone who is moving visit occasionally leading up to the move. Just ask when would be best not to disturb the current residents.

Schedule the Move During the Best Time

People suffering from dementia have times of the day when they feel the best. That can be in the morning or late afternoon after a nap. Try to schedule the move during the time of day when you know your parent will be in the best state of mind because that will make it easier for everyone involved.

Let Your Parent Pack Valuables

Allow your parent to pack valuables to feel more secure about moving belongings to another place. A small bag or suitcase should be sufficient to place a few special items into transport by hand. The rest of the items can be sent later not to overwhelm your parent.

Stay for a While Before Leaving

It will take some time to become acclimated to the new living space. Stay as long as possible to ensure your parent is comfortable before you leave.

Seek Counseling

The stress of moving a parent with dementia to an assisted living facility is not only on the parent. It’s stressful for you too. Be sure to seek counseling to help you process the move to understand it’s the best situation for everyone.

Communicate with Staff

The staff knows this is a transition for you, too, so don’t feel you’re bothering anyone when you want to check on your parent. It will make you feel much better and speaking to your parent when you call will make everyone feel more at ease.

Move your parent with confidence that you’re making the right choice when it comes to providing quality care. Instead of burning out on caregiving, you can spend time with your parent enjoying this stage of life.

Summary

As families navigate the intricate landscape of dementia care, understanding the role of Medicare and Medicaid in covering essential services becomes paramount. From home health services to skilled nursing facility stays, knowing what benefits are available can alleviate financial burdens and ensure quality care.

Exploring alternative therapies and interventions offers innovative approaches to enhance the well-being of dementia patients. Advanced care directives provide a means for individuals to maintain autonomy and ensure their healthcare preferences are honored throughout the progression of the disease.

Additionally, caregiver support and respite services are essential for the caregiver’s overall well-being. By tapping into community resources and support groups, families can find solace, guidance, and a sense of community in their caregiving.

Dementia poses significant challenges. Support systems empower families to provide care with confidence and compassion, ensuring the best possible quality of life for their loved ones.

References

Music Therapy:

  • Raglio, A., Bellelli, G., Traficante, D., Gianotti, M., Ubezio, M. C., Villani, D., & Trabucchi, M. (2008). Efficacy of music therapy in the treatment of behavioral and psychiatric symptoms of dementia. Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders, 22(2), 158-162.
  • Gómez-Romero, M., Jiménez-Palomares, M., Rodríguez-Mansilla, J., & Flores-Nieto, A. (2020). Long-Term Effects of Music Therapy on Elderly with Moderate/Severe Dementia. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports, 4(1), 373-384.

Art Therapy:

  • Camic, P. M., Baker, E. L., Tischler, V., & Bentley, P. J. (2016). Theorizing how art gallery interventions impact people with dementia and their caregivers. The Gerontologist, 56(6), 1033-1041.
  • Osman, S. E., Tischler, V., & Schneider, J. (2014). Art therapy for people with dementia: A systematic review of the literature. Arts & Health, 6(1), 36-60.

Citations

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