People with Alzheimer's may be able to manage their own legal and financial affairs at first. But as the disease gets worse, they’ll need to rely on others to act in their best interests. It’s not an easy change.
Plan for it in advance if you or someone close to you is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. You can lower your family’s stress and make decisions together for what may come.
A dementia diagnosis can be devastating -- not only for the person with the disease, but for those who love him, too. “There’s a grieving that occurs. You haven’t lost your loved one, but the person you know is going to change,” says Rosanne M. Leipzig, MD, professor of geriatric medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
If you or someone close to you has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, here are six steps to help you deal with the disease now and in the future.
It’s important to have clearly written legal documents that outline your or your loved one's wishes and decisions. These documents can authorize another person to make health care and financial decisions, including plans for long-term care. As much as possible, the person with Alzheimer's should participate in legal planning, as long as he’s mentally able to sign official documents.
An attorney can help you understand the laws that apply in your state and what you need to protect yourself or your loved one. Lawyers who specialize in elder law, which focuses on issues that typically affect older adults, can help with some of the specific issues you might face.
Ask about these documents as you plan for the future:
Power of attorney. This gives a person with Alzheimer's disease, called the principal, a chance to choose someone to make legal decisions for him when he’s no longer able to do so.
Power of attorney for health care. The person with the disease chooses someone to make all decisions about his health care, including choices on health care providers, medical treatment, and end-of-life decisions.
Living will. This allows someone to decide which, if any, life support treatments he wants if he goes into a coma or becomes terminally ill.
Living trusts. These let a person, called the grantor or trustor, create a trust and name himself or someone else as trustee (usually a person or a bank). The trustee will carefully invest and manage his assets once he’s no longer able to do so.
A will. This document names the person who will manage his estate, called an executor, and the people, called beneficiaries, who will receive the estate when he dies.