Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Warning Signs and Legal Reaction
Elder law attorneys often assist the elderly and their families in preparing for and dealing with ailments that affect us as we age. Two of the more difficult medical situations families are often faced with is a parent who develops dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s important to look for key warning signs if you suspect a loved one may be developing this disorder. Here are three of the most common warning signs as reported by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Mood and Personality Swings
Someone suffering from dementia can go through sudden and unprovoked shifts in mood or personality. This can cause a person to become upset easily whenever their sense of comfort and security are threatened. While it’s normal for elderly people to develop a routine and feel uncomfortable if that routine is broken, suddenly becoming depressed, fearful, suspicious, or confused is a sign of possible dementia.
Decreased Problem Solving Abilities
Elderly people, as well as anyone else, can make occasional mistakes while paying bills or balancing their checkbooks. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, the ability to solve such common problems is significantly degraded. The inability to, for example, follow a familiar recipe or pay bills all at one time can be a warning sign of possible dementia.
Everyone experiences cognitive decline as they age. This often leads to moments oif memory lapse such as forgetting what day it is and then suddenly remembering later on. For Alzheimer’s sufferers, this memory loss is more significant. People with Alzheimer’s may forget what season it is; not know dates or events; or ask for the same information over and over again. That memory loss can interfere with their normal life activities.
Seeking medical attention upon detecting such symptoms is usually wise. But often an elder is in self denial or combative about the idea that he or she may be suffering cognitive decline. This is understandable. Family doctors may be able to help, especially with referrals to practitioners who specialize in the diseases of the elderly (geriatrics). There are mental health agencies including your local Council on Aging, that are great sources of information and referrals. Many local and regional hospitals have geriatric programs as well. Social workers can also be of assistance. The point is, help is available to figure out what is going on, and how to help your elderly loved one in this time of transition.
Another Warning That Cannot Be Ignored
One final but very important note. Development of these types of changes is also a warning to make sure that your elder’s estate planning is in order. The diseases of dementia and Alzheimer’s are challenging enough without piling on legal limitations and roadblocks, too. But if the appropriate legal documents are not in place, that’s what will happen. The obstacles that arise from a lack of legal planning, or ineffective legal planning, can be insurmountable at worst, and stressful at the least. Alzheimer’s and dementia are progressive diseases, so time is of essence. If you wait too long to do the legal planning needed, the patient’s mental status could deteriorate to a point that it is too late to create or modify legal documents. Then the options for planning become very limited and more difficult to implement.
Having appropriate legal documents can be the gateway to other progress and solutions. If a loved one suffers significant cognitive impairment, someone else must have legal authority to act for him or her, or else the courts will have to get involved. So, make a legal review of your loved one’s estate plans one of the first things you do if you notice any of the symptoms shared above.