Cost Transparency in Aging and Dementia

There is a need for greater cost transparency in our health care and aging system. There is a need for us to re-examine the worth associated with various services, actives, and positions within the aging and dementia services and professions. There is a need to talk about the cost of aging! 

Five years ago, I was part of a team that developed a class for the University of Wisconsin System on the cost of aging. We sought to educate others on the hard numbers such as remodeling a home and assisted living, and the smaller costs such as care partner loss of income, community programming, and the physical and emotional costs paid by everyone on the aging and dementia journey. 

During our development meetings, it was clear that most of the group disagreed with the fact that the soft/smaller costs of aging are just as impactful or influential in a person’s life. Yet, to ignore these cost puts us back in the spiral we have lived in for so many decades. There is a cost to ignoring proper education for staff, medical teams, and families. There is a cost to ignoring the social needs of both the individual living with dementia and their care partners. There is a cost to not allowing your actives or CNA staff to work for you full time. There is a cost to thinking everyone who provides life-enrichment style programming and connections can work for free because “we have volunteers that can do that work.” There is a cost to accumulating those “warm fuzzy” certifications but never implementing them. There is a cost to associating letters after one’s name with their ability to serve in beautiful ways. There is a cost to not engaging our residents and clients, creativity, socially, emotionally. There are costs to not being transparent about the costs of aging. 

This is something that has always bothered me, putting the medical and living costs above the social, emotional, and spiritual costs of aging. I work to provide those soft costs, and yet, some of the services I provide are quite a bit of money, and I have always worked to make sure you get something out of every penny you put into the educational, life enrichment, and support services I provide. There is a cost to ignoring what I provide, how I provide it, and why it is important. I am one of many who seeks to help others in this way, and we all have put our own price and what we offer. During these past months, we have suffered, struggled, and persevered as we were the first to be thrown out the window at the start of the lockdowns. One can understand why the gut reaction was what it was, given the decades behind us, and we saw a magnifying glass on how the industry truly saw us, our perceived worth, and how much we are often the outsiders because we are not medical or clinical. We see the damage that lens has caused, and now, almost 8 months in, it is time to transform the way we age, live, and serve others, pandemic or not. 

On my website I list my prices when I can. I hope that you will take the time to think about where you have placed your money as a care community or organization, and what it has done for you and those you serve. Then, think about how, by support people, such as myself, and allowing us to help you do your job to your fullest capacity, we can be better and enact the change we have all been talking about for years. We need to look beyond the hard costs of aging, incorporating the soft cost. We need to think about how we value our greatest and most impactful employees and contract workers, and we need to be honest with ourselves about what cost we are willing to pay to cultivate a community living fully alive. We are called to do more than keep people alive, we are called to help all of us live. 

Published by Kathryne Fassbender

Creative Gerontologist, Speaker, Catholic Innovator. I am also the granddaughter of someone who lived with Vascular Dementia.

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