Adult children helping aging parents with dementia often face challenges they’re not prepared for.

Trudy recently shared her story with me that reminded me of that fact. Actually, it was the cautionary tale of her friends, Nancy and Tom, that brought Trudy into my office. She came to ask about aging parents with dementia.

Nancy’s father had shown signs of dementia that progressed rather quickly. The family wasn’t emotionally prepared for what unfolded. I don’t think anyone can really prepare for something like that. Unfortunately, Nancy’s father, Charley, didn’t have his legal affairs arranged In a way that allowed his family to help him when he could no longer make sound decisions on his own. They could only help him after a great deal of wrangling with the legal system.

Trudy took action right away. She knew her mother was at risk, but she also knew that they could prepare legally for the possibility of dementia. She didn’t want to have to endure the same ordeal as her friends Nancy and Tom. I was more than happy to help them prepare the legal documents that gave her the power to help her mom if and when that time comes. Both Trudy and her mom feel a sense of relief, knowing that they’re now better prepared.

Dementia and its impact on the family

Dementia is a group of diseases that cause a change in cognitive function. Alzheimer’s is the most well-known, but it is only one of at least ten dementia illnesses that interfere with an individual’s daily life. Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Huntington’s disease are three others you may have heard of.

What you might not know are some of the most serious facts related to dementia. The Alzheimer’s association provides several statistics that should motivate adult children of aging parents to take action.
–    Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US
–    More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s
–    In 2015, more than 15 million caregivers provided and estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care
–    In 2016, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $236 billion
–    Family caregivers spend more than $5,000 a year caring for someone with Alzheimer’s

You can learn more on the Alzheimer’s Association website

Those statistics are staggering enough. What’s also staggering is the impact on families and their daily life. The time and resources required to care for loved ones mean that they often sacrifice a great deal. What’s hard to take is the fact that mom or dad might have the financial resources to provide for their care, but they might not be legally accessible to their family. It’s helpful to know, however, that simple legal steps can be taken to avoid that situation, if you take action soon enough.

Recognize the symptoms of dementia

As parents age, it becomes more important to pay attention to their cognitive ability. Dementia patients might be physically capable of doing everything they need to. Remembering to do it, or the reasons why, are what often escape them. Other resources will be better sources of information, but I can give you some basic pointers.

Long and short term memory begins to degrade, and in varying degrees of speed and severity. Dan might wonder where he is, what he’s supposed to be doing and why. He may forget to take medication, eat or even clothe himself properly.

Pay attention to basic regular functions of life. Is the car maintained as normal? Are bills getting paid? Is the refrigerator properly stocked? If regular functions of life show signs of neglect, it might be cause for concern. Other clues can be problems with words in speaking or writing, or withdrawing from normal social activities.

Action you should take – in advance

Marriage, divorce, the arrival of children, the start or dissolution of a business and other key life events should all trigger a checkup on your estate planning documents. Retirement is also a good checkpoint. When you’re done celebrating all those years of hard work it’s time to do a lot of those things you’ve dreamed about.

It’s also time to check in with your attorney to make sure your affairs are well in order. It might be several decades since you’ve visited this subject. Although it’s critical, it’s not enough to have a will and a trust. Powers of Attorney should not only be in place, but reflect your current wishes.

If you’re an adult child of an aging parent, have a discussion with a qualified attorney who not only specializes in Estate Planning, but also Elder Law.” Make a list of all the documents that should be in place and up to date.

A little time and effort will save you a lot of grief if you’re dealing with aging parents with dementia in one of its many forms.