Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Family Input Can Help Detect Dementia Earlier

Recently, USA Today reminded readers of the role that family members play in catching the onset of cognitive mental diseases in seniors, such as dementia and Alzheimer's.  These issues are of particular importance in the legal context because mental issues can affect one's legal capacity.  The ability to conduct estate planning, receive Medicaid, or otherwise make prudent decisions for the future will be made more difficult if begun after dementia or Alzheimer's has set in.

By the very nature of the condition, the one who is suffering from these issues has difficultly identifying the problem themselves.  That is why a family plays a crucial role in identifying the cognition problem and addressing it.  As the article notes, "dementia can sneak up on families. Its sufferers are pretty adept at covering lapses early on."  Often it is not until there is some major accident or life-threatening complication that adult children, spouses, and others become fully aware of the problem.

To combat the challenges of early detection, experts urge family members to be more involved.  As part of the first "National Alzheimer's Plan," advocates are trying to raise awareness about the need for relatives to be diligent about a senior's actions to ensure mental cognition issues are caught as soon as possible.  One advocate noted, "family input should be's the only way to know if the person really is eating enough and taking her medicines as she claims, and not forgetting to turn off the stove."
 In addition, there is a growing call for primary-care doctors to take a more active role in detecting dementia early.  For example, in a regular visit the doctor might ask "How are you doing?"  Usually the senior patient replies, "Fine," and then the matter is dropped.  This minimal discussion of basic life circumstances is too brief for the physician to have any way to ensure that the senior's mental condition has not reached a dangerous level.

On top of that, as part of the early detection programs, government officials working on dementia and Alzheimer's issues are trying to get families to conduct advanced planning.  Having a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy are crucial as soon as dementia is diagnosed.  No one is fully prepared for the challenges that aging can bring--particularly conditions that attack the mind. No amount of financial preparation or long-term care plans can make the process easy.   However, the overall stress of the situation is less taxing when steps have been taken ahead of time to ensure that sticky matters like estate preparation and proper long-term care planning are decided ahead of time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"The Long Goodbye"

Earlier this year a featured article in Atlanta Magazine offered a uniquely detailed and accurate portrait of what it is like to help an ailing parent or loved one as their heath deteriorates. Entitled, "The Long Goodbye," the article shares the author's own story of heartbreak, worry, stress, financial loss, and confusion while caring for his ailing father. Our firm understands that it is often helpful to hear real, individual stories about the aging and caregiving process. Discussing numbers--assets saved, taxes avoided--is necessary, but at the end of the day this process is very much about emotions and family values.

The author explains that he thought his father was going to die in 2001. The elderly man had fallen while trying to get the mail, hitting his head hard on the ground and temporarily losing consciousness. The man then  crawled back up his driveway to the front door of his house. It was that incident that prompted his family to take him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a deteriorating spine and prostate cancer. A risky operation was undertaken, and the family was warned that the man was likely in his final days. However, he was not actually in his final days.

Similar to the experiences of many local community members, the elderly man persisted. For the next eleven years he was shuttled from care facilities, hospices, and other locations as those involved struggled to find the best fit for him.

The eleven years of care took its toll on the family finances. The author explained, "Daddy's long goodbye has drained his retirement income and life savings of more than $300,000. Where's the money gone? Assisted living, mostly. Of course, that amount doesn't account for his medical bills, most of which have been paid by Medicare and insurance policies that were part of his retirement."

The family was completely unprepared to deal with their father's deterioration. They were not familiar with long-term planning options, had not spoken with an elder law attorney, and did not know where to begin to get him the care he needed. The author warned others that while it may not be comfortable to talk about, the benefits of figuring some of these details out ahead of time is absolutely essential.