JANUARY 2019 - Helping Your Family Member With Dementia
Seeing a loved one age can bring a flood of emotions of past memories and accomplishments, of current challenges, and even fear. Much of that fear comes from the uncertainty of what’s next, and how to properly care for a relative. This is especially so with a parent or family member diagnosed with dementia. Many times, it robs them of their memory, independence, and identity. This is perhaps the most personal of diseases, as it takes away a person’s personality and changes their interactions with their family.
The Alzheimer’s Association stated that in 2018, 5.7 million Americans were living with some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. That number is only going to rise as the population ages over the coming decades, particularly the “Baby Boomer” generation.
Families put their trust in medical care in the hopes of managing such a tragic disease. But what can families themselves do? Fortunately, a lot! First, remember this: you are not alone. You may feel lost or helpless in combating dementia’s toll on a parent or relative, but there are pro-active steps you can take. We like to break these steps down into two categories: “hard” help and “soft” help.
“Hard” Help – Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Respectful Questions and Reach Out!
Let’s start with “hard” help. These are tasks to make sure a person’s affairs are in order. Are their bills being paid, and are they getting their monthly income or benefits? This also includes making sure someone has executed powers of attorney (both financial and healthcare) while they still have the cognitive ability to do so. For a family member who may see recurring signs of “forgetfulness” or decline in someone, be diligent. For example, ask your parent if they have their powers of attorney in a file somewhere. Ask them if and when they signed a will, a trust, or beneficiary designations on a bank account. It’s common for family, out of respect and tradition, to not bring up these personal matters. But you’re not being nosy by asking respectfully! Just asking them if they’ve taken even the most basic of steps is important. It will go a long way to making sure their property is handled correctly. Even give them the phone number to an estate planning attorney, who can speak to them about having all legal documents in order. Respectful questions do not hurt, and can only help a loved one in need. This is particularly true if you think a loved one is missing financial documents, has misplaced money, or there is a risk of exploitation.
Similarly, if you are someone’s patient advocate, or just a child of a parent accompanying them to the doctor’s office, make sure that person understands their medications. Help your parent or relative keep a list of daily medications, organize them out on a table, and enlist the support of their doctor for guidance. Ask about any need for medical specialists and in-home care, if appropriate. If your loved one is getting medical equipment or supplies mailed to their residence, make sure it’s arriving and ready for use. With the added complexities of Medicare and Medicaid, help a parent if they don’t understand a benefits statement or doctor’s bill. Ask for clarification from the doctor, nurse, or staff.
Dementia leads to a loss in the ability to plan for events big and small, whether it be taking daily medicine or planning a trip to see grandchildren. So you have to be the eyes and ears of your loved one. Don’t assume anything, and help them. They may be confused or even fearful, and worse still they may not tell you! So making sure their financial affairs are in order, their daily regiment is adhered to, and their health is being watched over is key.
“Soft” Help – Kindness and Patience
We mentioned some of the “hard” help you can provide, such as ensuring financial and healthcare matters are attended to. But there’s “soft” help, and these are the little gestures of grace in making a parent or loved one’s life easier. It’s taking groceries out of the bags and loading their refrigerator. It’s walking to pick up their mail for them, and calling them to check on their well-being. Take them out to the grocery store, a restaurant, or even church. Help them put on a coat, take a short walk for exercise, and smile as much as you can.
You may not notice it, but for people with dementia who are losing a sense of awareness, this gives them great comfort. It can remind them of their worth and place with family. It helps to reduce their fear in those moments of uncertainty. It creates purpose, both for you and them.
The stigma of dementia and Alzheimer’s should be things of the past. That person’s worth is not less, but even more!
The Alzheimer’s Association states that “Patience, flexibility and open communication can provide reassurance” for a loved one. Encourage them to speak up, whether it be to you, other family, or even a counselor.
Also, in these “soft” help moments, it may lead you to realize your parent or loved one may need the “hard” help we talked about. With trust comes more communication about important matters like healthcare or finances. Your diligence gives them dignity.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
Contact us today at SSR Law Offices, at (586) 239-0871, if you think any of the above situations involve your parent or family member. We can help guide you, and assist with proper estate planning to minimize stress in a person’s life. Dementia and aging are stressful enough. Each day, we help families manage what should be a peaceful time in a person’s life, surrounded by people who care.