Early Signs of Dementia and What to Do About Them

Newsletter | Apr 10, 2017 | Hook Law Center

The Alzheimer’s Association’s website, www.alz.org, has a page devoted to 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I commend the site to your review, especially if you are trying to figure out whether you have dementia or just age-related memory changes. Particularly for those of us who have a relative who has struggled with dementia, it always a concern when things get forgotten. Among the signs that could signal dementia are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, especially recently learned information;
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems, like following a familiar recipe;
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure, like how to drive to a familiar location or remembering the rules of a favorite game;
  • Confusion with time or place, like losing track of seasons or the passage of time;
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, like difficulty reading or judging distance, the latter of which may manifest as trouble driving.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing, like having trouble following a conversation, stopping in the middle of a conversation and repeating themselves, or struggling with common vocabulary and calling thing by the wrong name;
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, like putting eyeglasses in the freezer;
  • Decreased or poor judgment, like giving large amounts to telemarketers or losing track of cash, or like paying less attention to personal grooming;
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities they used to enjoy; and
  • Changes in mood and personality, like becoming confused or suspicious or anxious.

If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, your first step should be to contact your physician and schedule an appointment to discuss what you are experiencing. If early dementia is diagnosed, early intervention may provide some symptomatic relief and allows a longer period of independent living. Your second step should be contacting an elder law attorney.

When someone receives a dementia diagnosis, the entire family goes through stages of shock and fear about the future. However, contact with an experienced elder law attorney, like the attorneys at the Hook Law Center, can help the family through this stage with proper planning. It is vital that planning be done before the disease becomes so advanced that the patient loses their capacity to sign the documents necessary to implement a plan.

One component of any plan will be reviewing and updating necessary estate planning documents. In addition, it is likely that general durable powers of attorney and advanced medical directives may need to be updated or created. These latter two documents are extremely important when diseases like dementia are in play because as the disease progresses, the natural course will be that the patient likely loses capacity at some point before death. In that situation, it is important that agents be appointed and empowered to make the decisions necessary to carry out the patient’s wishes, implement a financial plan and to protect assets. For clients who may need to rely on public benefits to help pay for care in the face of a dementia diagnosis, it is extremely important that existing powers of attorney be reviewed to ensure that the powers necessary to implement an asset protection plan are specifically granted to the agent in the power of attorney. For most people who have created powers of attorney when younger and healthier or without an eye towards public benefits planning, their powers of attorney do not contain the powers necessary to implement all of the asset protection and eligibility strategies that can be employed.

A second component of any plan will be reviewing the overall financial health of the family to determine how the family plans to pay for care when it becomes necessary. We will look at all avenues to assist in paying for care. We will discuss care at home and care in a facility. We will discuss the feasibility of maintaining the family in their home from both the patient’s perspective as well as that of the caretaker. We will discuss all the options available, including private pay and governmental benefits. When it is still possible for everyone in the family to understand and materially participate in the formation of a plan of care is the time to make the plan. By understanding the options available and how best to achieve your financial goals, we can relieve much of the stress and fear that comes from facing an uncertain future.

Unfortunately, dementia is becoming a more common diagnosis as our population ages. But the fear of running out of money and not being able to afford care should not be thrown on top of your other concerns. Make an appointment with one of the attorneys at the Hook Law Center and let us help relieve your mind by developing a plan that works for you.

Ask Kit Kat – Pesky Penquins

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about raising Galápagos baby penguins?

Kit Kat:  Well, in some ways, it’s just like raising human children. Let me explain. Galápagos penguins are the only penguins which live north of the Equator. They are considered endangered, because only around 2,000 remain in the world. That said, their parents when raising offspring, referred to as fledglings when they are old enough to hunt for food by themselves, can be quite generous. Parents feed their young by throwing up food they have partially digested into their offspring’s mouths. In a video recently recorded by researchers from the University of Washington, one parent penguin had just finished feeding its fledgling when the youngster kept following the parent and begging for more. The parent became so frustrated, that it just dove into the water to escape! Sound familiar? When kids just become too demanding, sometimes the best thing for parents to do is to bow out of the situation.

Anyway, parent Galápagos penguins and offspring live close-knit lives. They stay close to their birthplace throughout their lifetime. They usually are very generous with their offspring, especially if food is plentiful. When food is scarce, they tend to look out for themselves. Dee Boersma, professor of biology at the University of Washington, comments ‘When conditions are good, they can raise two chicks in a season and continue to feed them (even when they are fledglings and can feed themselves). When there’s little food around, they save themselves, forgetting about both eggs and chicks.’ Oh well, what can you say? It’s definitely survival of the fittest and nature’s way of ensuring continuance of the species. In the end, parent penguins are doing the best they can. (Nicholas Bakalar, “Even Penguins Have Children Who Won’t Leave the Nest, “ Science, The New York Times, March 20, 2017)

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