According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. This means that there is a very good chance that you or someone you love could eventually face this disease for which there is no cure or effective treatments. In recognition of World Alzheimer’s Month, we are shining a light on the realities of dealing with this devastating diagnosis.

It is hard to imagine a disease crueler and more heartless than Alzheimer’s. With insidious stealth, it creeps into the minds of its victims. Misplaced keys, an elusive word, a forgotten name…these symptoms may initially be attributed to the normal aging process. As time continues, the mental lapses increase. Important appointments are missed. As unpaid bill notifications arrive, hygiene, home maintenance and other everyday tasks can go neglected.

Around this time, concerned family, friends, and loved ones may begin lending assistance. Alzheimer’s subtly and slowly introduces an increasing level of burdens and responsibilities on caregivers: managing household finances, home and car maintenance, doctor’s appointments and more.

Early-stage Alzheimer’s may make itself known only after its victim becomes endangered. The person may become lost or disoriented while driving or walking a familiar route. Attempting to cook a simple meal may result in a visit from the fire department.

Eventually, Alzheimer’s is no longer content with torturing its victims as sadly, the victim begins to lose the ability to perceive the torment. The family must now suffer.

“I will never put my mother/father in a nursing home,” is sentiment often voiced by those who have yet to be in the position of taking care of someone suffering from dementia. Alzheimer’s will gradually destroy this resolve with the infantilization of a once capable and robust human being. Every parent can recount the challenges of early childhood: changing, feeding, transporting a helpless person. Performing these tasks with an adult-sized senior will break the spirit of the strongest of unpaid caregivers who are often resentful of family members who aren’t fairly sharing the burden.

Eventually, the physical, emotional, and financial strains become unbearable, and the painful decision to place mom or dad in a nursing home becomes a reality. As most don’t plan for this eventuality, the last days, weeks, or years can be spent depleting a life’s worth of savings.

The best way to be prepared for this possibility is to embrace financial strategies to ease the burden of care on the rest of the family. Is a long-term care policy appropriate? Are your assets protected? Will your insurance cover the costs of end-of-life care? When should life-saving care be terminated? You owe it to your family to discuss these issues before the need arises and to ensure that all these questions are answered.