Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the most important public health issues facing society. Did you know that more than 5.8 million seniors are currently living with the disease in the United States, and two-thirds of them are women? The vast majority of care is provided by more than 16 million family caregivers, friends and other unpaid volunteers. Their sacrifices often come at the expense of their own health. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Elder adults live, on average, just four to eight years after a positive diagnosis.
There is a growing movement of support for those in need. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Advocates across the nonprofit, health care, and legal communities are gathering across the country to provide education and support resources for seniors, family members, caregivers, and others impacted by the disease. Let us take this as an opportunity to discuss three ways Alzheimer’s caregivers can prepare to help an older loved one:
1. Prepare for the long-term. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that involves memory loss, diminished problem-solving abilities, and erratic behavior. Symptoms worsen over time until older adults can no longer care for themselves and ultimately face life-threatening health problems. Following a diagnosis, family caregivers should consider helping their older relative obtain a durable power of attorney. This will allow a trusted confidant to make legally binding decisions on behalf of the elder loved one. An advance directive and health care privacy release are also important legal imperatives, as are any estate planning updates that would provide for their long-term care and impacted inheritance wishes.
2. Create a caregiver support plan. Caregiving is both rewarding and stressful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s caregivers are at greater risk of anxiety, depression, and poorer quality of life than other caregivers due to the intense patient demands caused by Alzheimer’s Disease. Creating a support plan can be critical. At a minimum, it should include a list of people and organizations to contact for help and respite care. Joining an Alzheimer’s support group, learning new caregiving skills, regular exercise, and planning for self-care are other important aspects of a healthy support plan.
3. Train for changes. As Alzheimer’s progresses, caregivers may need to adapt to changing behaviors. This can be difficult without knowing what to expect. Consider contacting an Area Agency on Aging through an Eldercare Locator to obtain information about your specific circumstances. The nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association offers resources in communities across the country, as well as free online courses about Alzheimer’s Disease. The legal community is also a potent resource for families and caregivers in need of professional assistance.
Planning for the future and accessing support systems can be vital in caring for a loved one with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Our firm is not only here to become part of that support system, but we also help put legal protections in place as we guide you through planning for the future. If you or someone you know would like more information or guidance about related legal matters, contact our office to schedule a meeting.