Dementia and Underwriting Insurance
Today we want to touch on a serious subject for seniors, especially seniors looking for life insurance. We all know that, as we age, our physical and mental abilities decline. For 5.8 million Americans 65 and over, Alzheimer’s and dementia, are scary realities that impact your underwritten risk.
Before we continue: we want to take a moment to recognize that watching your loved one suffer with dementia or Alzheimer’s is emotionally trying, stressful, and exhausting. If you’re finding a dementia diagnosis has impacted you and your family, support groups and counseling can help.. Please visit http://www.alz.org/apps/we_can_help/support_groups.asp to find a support group near you.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a borad term used to describe a decreased ability in cognitive functions, specifically, memory loss. In many cases, as cognitive degeneration decreases, the sufferer experiences difficulties performing daily activities.
This disease is most commonly found in individuals over the age of 65 – and is the only disease listed among the top 10 leading causes of death that cannot be cured, slowed or prevented. This means it has drastic impacts for seniors looking to renew, repurchase, or re-rate their life insurance policies. The average life expectancy for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is between 8 and 12 years after his/her diagnosis.
There is good news, however, for seniors with dementia shopping for life insurance. It is possible to maintain a good rating or to be underwritten normally.
Types of Dementia
Underwriters will look at the type of dementia you have, assessing your ratings based on its role in your overall physical and mental wellbeing. Here are a few common types of dementia underwriters look at:
Korsakoff syndrome refers to a chronic memory disorder, caused by extreme thiamine deficiency (also known as vitamin B-1). Thiamine is what helps your brain cells break down sugar into energy. When B-1 levels dip too low, your brain cells have trouble generating the energy to function properly.
This cognitive disease is most commonly caused by misuse of alcohol misuse, but certain other conditions also can cause the syndrome, such as certain cancers, AIDS, poor nutrition (malabsorption is a commonly-cited cause), chronic infection or chronic illness. Weight loss surgeries, also known as bariatric surgery, can also cause Korsakoff’s Syndrome.
This degenerative disease causes death in about 20% of sufferers. Because this disease is so rare, underwriters will take a look at your acute systems, such as nausea, confusion, low blood pressure, fatigue or weakness. Once these symptoms are managed – typically with an oral or injectable thiamine, underwriters will more accurately be able to assess your risk. With Korsakoff Syndrome, your alcohol habits and prognosis are incredibly important to getting a good rating.
Also known as CJD, Creutzfeld-Jakob disease is a rare (about 1 case in 1 million occur each year) rapidly progressive, fatal neurological disease. It is a classification of a “prion disease,” which means your brain proteins spontaneously change into an infective and abnormal tissue called a prion.
The prion proteins then accumulate in the brain, causing a range of neurological symptoms, including visual disturbances, jerky movements, walking difficulties, and the rapid onset of dementia. The average age of death for those diagnosed with this disease is 68, and most individuals pass within a year of diagnosis.
If you or someone you love have been diagnosed with CJD and are afraid of what this means for your life insurance coverage, we can help. Give us a call today.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
MCI is commonly associated with Alzheimer’s, but does not always mean that Alzheimer’s is present. MCI is mild and, while it causes some cognitive impairments and memory malfunctions, it does not typically interfere with day-to-day activities.
Most patients with MCI experience difficulties with smell and movement. It’s important to monitor the progress of MCI – especially if you are at risk for Alzheimer’s.
Give us a call today if you or someone you love has MCI, and we can walk you through your life insurance options.
This generally refers to difficulties with planning, reasoning, memory, judgment and other thought processes. Vascular dementia is caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to your brain, most typically due to a stroke blocking an artery in your brain. Occasionally, this form of dementia can result from other conditions that reduce circulation and damage blood vessels, and can deprive your brain of oxygen and nutrients.
Underwriters will pay careful attention to the factors that can lead to a stroke, such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes, when assessing your risk. If you are over the risk age for vascular dementia (65 to 90), and you have any of the risk factors for the disease, be sure to talk to your doctor about preventative treatment plans. A comprehensive treatment plan could be the difference between affordable premiums.
Alzheimer’s was named in 1906 after Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered that a deceased patient’s linguistic difficulties, unpredictable behavior and memory loss was caused by tangled neurofibrillary fibers.
Dr. Alzheimer also discovered that amyloid plaques, or sticky buildups outside of nerve cells that are harmful to brain function. Typically, neurons in the brain will transmit messages to different parts of the brain, controlling organs, muscles and other functions; however, in a patient with Alzheimer’s, the neurons are no longer able to connect.
Research conducted by the National Institute on Aging found that neuron damage to the brain actually occurs roughly a decade before memory and cognitive functions begin to fail. So, while Alzheimer’s is typically associated with seniors, neurological damage could occur before you even enter into the “senior” age bracket, with little-to-no symptoms.
In the early stage, you may experience impaired judgment, vision problems, spatial issues, language difficulties or a decline in additional cognitive functions. It’s important to keep up a healthy lifestyle and to regularly visit your physician to combat the biomarkers of Alzheimer’s, such as getting enough sleep, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, avoiding or ceasing tobacco use and monitoring your cardiovascular health.
Finding life insurance with cognitive impairment and dementia can be an incredibly time-consuming and frustrating process.
As with any disease, underwriters will assess your risk on an individual, case-by-case, basis
In order to present your situation in the best light possible, you will want to sit down with your life insurance agent to draft a cover letter, detailing your diagnosis, treatment plan, and situation. This letter should include your current age, when you were diagnosed, a snapshot of your current health status (you will need to mention the presence of any additional diseases) and how your diagnosis impacts your daily life.
That last detail is particularly important. Underwriters will want to know if you have difficulty performing daily tasks, such as dressing yourself, bathing, toilet functions, and feeding yourself, as well as if you can drive independently and manage your own finances. Each one of these details will work together to present a total picture of your current health, and a prediction of how your diagnosis will impact your future risk.
You may be surprised to find that, with a lot of mild dementia-related diagnoses, it’s possible to find insurance at a relatively normal rating. Give us a call today to find out more information on finding an affordable life insurance policy with dementia.