If you’re a fan of the TV show “This is Us,” you have followed the trials and tribulations of the Pearson family through the years. As the series draws to a close, much of the focus is on matriarch Rebecca, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. The show does not shy away from some of the challenges of dealing with the disease, including choosing which adult child will serve as medical decision maker when the patient can no longer make those decisions. But there are some aspects of planning for Alzheimer’s care that the show glosses over.
One of the characters, Rebecca’s adult son Kevin, is a successful actor who builds not only Rebecca’s dream house but a guest house on the property in which paid caretakers can stay. It is a loving and generous gesture. But most families do not have those resources available.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s; 11 million people, mostly family members, are providing unpaid care for those patients. One of every three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Many of those people eventually need more care than can be provided at home, but most families cannot afford to pay nursing home costs out of pocket for long. That’s why planning for a parent’s Alzheimer’s care (or your own) is essential.
Of course, planning for Alzheimer’s care involves much more than just financial issues. There are legal, financial, and health issues to consider, along with the impact of the disease on family dynamics. The Alzheimer’s journey is unfamiliar and often overwhelming for patients and their families. An elder law attorney who has experience with Alzheimer’s patients can help coordinate the moving parts.
Arranging for Alzheimer’s Care
When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant reminds you that if there is a drop in cabin pressure, you are to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. That’s good advice for Alzheimer’s, too, which can be a long and turbulent journey for all involved.
When you first suspect your parent has Alzheimer’s, you may not want to believe it. That’s natural; nobody wants to see the person who cared for them all their life decline and need care themselves. Unfortunately, wanting things to be different than they are only leads to frustration for both of you. It’s helpful to learn about the stages of Alzheimer’s so you can know what to expect and do.
If you notice memory changes, struggles with familiar tasks, or other concerning developments, it is time to involve your parent’s doctor. If your parent will sign a HIPAA release allowing their doctor to communicate with you, excellent. If not, there is nothing to prevent you from communicating with the doctor. If you have documented your observations, you can at least make the doctor aware so that he or she can suggest or perform a cognitive screening. Once there is a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or a precursor to Alzheimer’s, like mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a medical treatment plan can be put in place.
You do not have to wait until there is a medical diagnosis to discuss your concerns with an elder care attorney. An elder care attorney can provide you with help in a number of areas, including:
- Planning for incapacity (if your parent still has the mental and legal capacity to do so)
- Guardianship and conservatorship (if your parent is legally incapacitated and does not have powers of attorney in place)
- Elder Transitions Planning, including long-term care planning
- Estate planning
- Medicaid planning and asset protection planning
- Resources for caregivers
Dealing with Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming. Caregiving alone is difficult, but coordinating the various services that your parent needs can feel almost impossible, especially when your time, energy, and resources are already stretched to the limit.
In addition, most adult children helping a parent navigate Alzheimer’s are doing so for the first time. Lack of familiarity with what lies ahead only increases your stress, especially if you are bearing the majority of caregiving on your own. With all that you have on your plate, caring for yourself may seem like a low priority. But as with the airplane analogy, if you are depleted and weak, you will not be able to give your parent the help they need.
How an Elder Law Attorney Helps With Alzheimer’s Care Planning
When you’re traveling an unfamiliar road, it’s always helpful to have an experienced guide. That is the role an elder law attorney plays when you are planning for your parent’s Alzheimer’s care. If you’ve never planned for the care of someone with Alzheimer’s before, you may not even know the questions you need to ask.
Fortunately, an elder law attorney does. Your attorney will ask you about your concerns and preferences, the resources available for your parent’s care (both human and financial), the availability of veterans’ benefits and long-term care insurance, and more. Your attorney will also advise you of actions you need to take and potential pitfalls you need to avoid, like actions that could jeopardize your parent’s ability to qualify for Medicaid in the event they someday need long-term care in a nursing home.
If you are reading this article, it’s likely that a loved one’s symptoms or diagnosis are worrying you. We are sorry for what you, and they, are going through. We can’t make it go away, but we can support you through it. Please contact us to learn more about planning for Alzheimer’s and long-term care planning, and to get the help you need and deserve.