Most of us know someone or have a family member affected by this brain disease. The word “dementia” is often used interchangeably with Alzheimer’s disease, though there are other kinds of dementia, with some different symptoms. The importance of awareness is not about the definition. It’s about how families need to recognize the early signs so that appropriate planning gets done.
At AgingParents.com, where we advice and coach families about the complexities of age-related problems they face, dementia is the most common issue we see. Family members are often confused, have misinformation, or are in denial about this. No wonder. It is a disease with no cure. It gets worse over time. No medications yet created can slow or stop its progress. Families don’t want to talk about it until things are out of control. And there is a better way to manage the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or any related dementia. We see what is before us and make plans to help our aging loved one.
It is useful for any family with an aging member who is no longer “sharp” mentally to understand that when you see certain things, you are probably looking at the beginnings of disease showing up in your aging parent’s life. Notice the early warning signs of dementia from the National Institutes on Aging:
For families, there is a tendency to dismiss these signs as “just getting old”. But age, itself, does not produce these signs. They are signs of difficulty ahead and the wise family members who see them will take action to keep the elder safe and plan ahead for the care that will be needed.
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Focusing on “trouble handling money and paying bills”, be forewarned that failure to take action when you see this sign is a setup for loss of wealth and financial abuse. The person with mild dementia may not realize at all that there is anything wrong. They are not able to plan ahead for managing finances. They may stubbornly insist that they are perfectly fine and get hostile when a family member wants to help. If you are in this situation, consider getting legal advice from an experienced elder law attorney about how to prevent the impaired person from losing their money.
Properly written family trusts have a provision in them that tells you what you need when you have a solid belief that your aging Dad or Mom is no longer competent to serve as the financial decision-maker on the trust. The term to look for in the trust, (assuming you can get ahold of it) is “incapacity”. I encourage every person whose aging loved ones show any persistent signs listed above to read that paragraph in the trust so you can take the necessary steps to remove the aging trustee or get him/her/them to resign. An experienced elder law attorney can be an invaluable help to you in interpreting the words written in that trust provision. They can guide you about your choices and what action you can take.
On this day of recognizing Alzheimer’s disease, consider that a person’s chances of developing the disease are at least one in three by age 85. With longevity, the risk goes up. Also know that researchers all over the world are working hard every day to find an effective treatment for this illness. That gives us all hope.