Many people are faced with uncertainty when they are given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. What is the next step? If your diagnosis is early there are a couple of things that you should do immediately. Most people are not prepared to deal with the financial and legal consequences that follow a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other progressive diseases.
Legal experts recommend examining your financial arrangements as soon as you are diagnosed with a degenerative disease-especially if it is one that involves decreasing mental capacity or function. Things to consider are a living will, power of attorney, and DNR: Do not Resuscitate Order. Since a complication of Alzheimer’s is the loss of clear thinking it may affect your ability to make decisions regarding your finances and medical care. Advance planning will help your family know what your wishes are during those difficult times. You can clearly outline your wishes so the family can make well-informed decisions about your health care and your finances. It may benefit you to have an attorney help with the legal decisions since they can interpret the state laws more clearly. However, there are living wills online that will work as well.
Advance Directive for Health Care
Advance Directives are documents that communicate the health care wishes of the a person with diminished mental capacity or other diseases in which the patient is unable to make a reasonable decision. Their decisions are then carried out as if they were still able to make their wishes known. Some of the documents used are a living will. This records a person’s wishes for medical treatment near the end of life. It may specify the extent of life-sustaining treatment and major health care the person wants ie feeding tubes, ventilators, etc. It is sometimes used to help a terminally ill patient die with dignity. It also protects the physician and hospital from liability for carrying out the patient’s wishes and instructions. Many times a terminally ill patient will ask for a DNR (Do not resuscitate order) so the hospital will not go to extreme measures to save their life in a crisis situation. This relieves the family member of having to determine how long or if they should leave someone on life support when their is little to no chance of recovery.
Durable Power of Attorney designates a person (proxy) to make health care decisions if the patient is unable to do so. Some of the things the proxy can do is to refuse or agree to treatments, change health care providers, remove a patient from a facility or institution, decide about starting or ending life support, deciding whether the person with Alzheimer’s will end life at home or in a facility/institution, and they also have access to the patient’s medical records.
DNR is a Do Not Resuscitate order that instructs the hospital or health care provider not to perform CPR if a person’s heart stops or if they stop breathing.
Legal paperwork for financial arrangements can be in the form of a will, durable power of attorney, living will or living trust. A will indicates how the person wants their assets divided or distributed upon their death. A will also gives arrangements for the care of any minors, managing the estate, and funeral arrangements. A durable power of attorney helps the family avoid court action that may take away control of the finances of a person with Alzheimer’s. A living trust or will provides instruction about the estate and appoints someone as trustee to hold the property or funds for the beneficiaries.
For more information on who can help you or a loved one that is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s check out the information on the National Institute on Aging at www.nai.nih.gov/alzheimers ADEAR or Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center offers information for families, caregivers, and professional. They have valuable advice and publications on diagnosis, treatment, patient care, caregiver needs, education, long term care, training and research. You can also call them at 1-800-438-4380.
For help locating a legal expert in elderly care you can go to www.eldercare.gov or call 1-800-677-1116. They can help with information on community resources (adult day care, home care and nursing homes that specialize in Alzheimer care). And don’t forget you can always call the National Institute on Aging Information Center at 1-800-222-2225.
Living with a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can be emotional and hard on all family members. There are people out there who can help you get through the different stages and needs you will face. These experts can help you confront the tough questions about the future of the patient with Alzheimer’s. Just remember to start talking about it sooner rather than later. The earlier you make your choices the easier it will be.