Last week, I had three different clients come into my office with a loved one who had been diagnosed with (early onset) Alzheimer’s. Three in one week! When a loved one starts to lose his or her memory, it can be a struggle for the entire family. The person who has been the head of the family may soon fade from the person they once were, leaving their loved ones to wonder what will come next.
Families often wind up in our office to discuss their concerns that a loved one is showing signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, even before they meet with doctors. That’s because a lot of the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s tie into legal and financial issues. When money goes missing, bills pile up, checks go uncashed, the senior asks to change the will, or he or she is spending an unusual amount of time on the phone talking to marketers or “charity” representatives, alarm bells tend to go off.
I can’t stress enough that if and when this happens , time is of the essence.
If the family waits too long to take action, a doctor could determine that the senior no longer has the “mental capacity” to sign legal documents such as a Power of Attorney that would permit another person to take over his or her affairs. The only option left would be to petition the court for a Conservatorship, which is expensive time-consuming, and puts decisions about your loved one’s future into the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you or your family’s wishes.
Of course, all of this could be avoided by simply planning ahead. Talk to your older loved ones about creating legal documents that would allow someone they trust to take control in the event of incapacity. Stress to them the importance of getting things in order now, while they still are well and of sound mind, so that they ultimately can have a say in how their assets are managed and how they are cared for, if something happens.
However, the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease has a significant negative impact on the lives of people with Alzheimer’s may prevent them from getting the medical and legal help they need. There are so many negative public images and stereotypes associated with dementia, which contributes to a lack of engagement with people with this condition. Many people with dementia, as well as their caregivers, experience social isolation due to withdrawal from friends and other important people in their lives. Around 25% of dementia patients hide their diagnosis, and 40% said they have withdrawn from many everyday activities according to recent studies.
Stigma around Alzheimer’s disease exists, in part, due to the lack of public awareness and understanding of the disease, preventing people from:
- Seeking medical treatment when symptoms are present
- Receiving an early diagnosis or any diagnosis at all
- Living the best quality of life possible while they are able to do so
- Making plans for their future
- Benefitting from available treatments
- Developing a support system
- Participating in clinical trials
What Can You Do?
- Watch your loved one for changes.
- Do not pass judgment on the changes you observe.
- Talk to the individual who exhibits the symptoms; do not talk around the person.
- Encourage the individual to seek treatment. Make sure the person understands there is possible treatment available with a diagnosis.
- Do not exclude the individual from activities, do the opposite, include the individual in activities.
If we can help you work through this process, call our office to set up a consultation. In honor of World Alzheimer’s Month in September, we’ll waive the initial consultation fee.
P.S. The planning that can be done for your loved one really depends on the progression of the disease and your loved one’s ability to make decisions and understand consequences. I’ve outlined the “red flags” that the family should be looking out for, as well as your planning options for each stage leading up to incapacity in the article below.