In this post we are going to discuss the process of assisting aging parents and loved ones, and some of the strategies available to best prepare.
Even if you are not yet facing this difficult situation, the unfortunate reality is waiting for the majority of us, as a patient, a caregiver, a spouse, a family member, or any combination of these roles. In fact, every 67 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s Disease/Alzheimer’s-related dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Dementia can also result from brain injury or stroke, and other diseases. When dementia is not related to an injury, sometimes symptoms come on gradually and can be difficult to notice. Subtle changes can occur not only with an individual’s short-term memory, but also mood, and their ability to communicate, reason and focus. Additionally, many people attempt to compensate or adapt to the changes in their abilities, and these efforts can mask early symptoms.
Alzheimer’s/dementia are incurable. So, how to prepare?
1. Understand your risk and get tested when appropriate. Many people share a fear of death and the process of aging. Although we cannot avoid either, we can arm ourselves with information. If your parent has or had Alzheimer’s Disease, you may be at greater risk for developing dementia. Allow the experience with your family member to motivate you to plan ahead. Additionally, maintain your health! There are studies that show reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s.
2. Watch for early symptoms, and do not allow fear keep you from getting help early (and often). Maintain open communication with your family, advisors, and physicians. You may be hesitant to share such a difficult personal experience, or you may intend to protect your loved ones, but the reality is that as dementia progresses, you will become more reliant on others for your health, safety and well-being. Thus, the better informed your support system is about your personal wishes, the better equipped they will be to manage your care and maintain your dignity.
3. Make legal and financial decisions early, and give consideration to long-term care options. Talk to your financial planner about your ability to pay for in-home or facility care. Get advice from your accountant with regard to maximizing retirement plans and tax deductions/credits. Speak to an insurance broker about your ability to purchase long-term care insurance. If you already have Estate Planning documents, such as a revocable trust or durable power of attorney, you are ahead of the game, but you should also consider meeting with a qualified Elder Law attorney before any diagnosis to discuss your options for “pre-planning”.
One method that has proven to be extremely useful with minimal lifestyle disruption, is the use of a “five-year trust”. Essentially, the trust is created and funded when the trust maker does not need long-term care, and upon the expiration of five years after the date of creation, the assets in (and sometimes the income from) the trust will be exempt for Medicaid and Veterans benefits purposes. Assets can be preserved to improve care and quality-of-life, while allowing the individual to take advantage of any government benefits they may otherwise be entitled to. Pre-planning also preserves assets for the care of a surviving spouse, some legacy for children, and allows for greater options in choosing the location and quality of the care received.
With appropriate preparation, there is reason to fear the “sunset of your life.” For more information, contact Spring Arbor.