Dementia is the term commonly used to describe a person’s decline in memory and other cognitive abilities that interferes with daily life. This decline is not a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s, a brain disease that results in the loss of brain cells and function, is the most common cause of dementia.
How can Alzheimer’s impact your legal future? If your cognitive ability decreases below a specific threshold set by the State, you no longer will be allowed to make legal decisions for yourself. If you have not executed Powers of Attorney while still mentally competent, the State will step in and decide who will make business and medical decisions on your behalf. The State will similarly decide how your estate will be divided upon your death, if you have not previously signed a valid will or trust. Predictably, the decisions made by the State may not be the decisions you would have made for yourself.
Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, it’s important to detect impairment issues as early as possible and get your business, medical and legal affairs in order. While Alzheimer’s currently has no cure, early treatment may slow memory loss and increase your chances of longer independence. Here are 10 warning signs from the National Institute on Aging indicating when a person may need a medical evaluation:
1. Difficulty remembering.
Forgetting important dates or events, repeatedly asking for the same information, and relying on family members or reminder notes to handle daily tasks are clues that cognitive changes are occurring.
2. Difficulty in planning and solving problems.
Struggling to track monthly bills, follow a familiar recipe, solve simple math problems, or taking longer than usual to complete these familiar tasks can be another indicator of problems.
3. Losing track of dates, seasons and time.
Alzheimer’s sufferers may be confused about how they arrived at a location or forget where they are, both of which may be indicators of the disease.
4. Misplacing things.
Putting items in unusual places, struggling to retrace steps to look for a lost item and, in some cases, accusing others of stealing, are also warning signs particularly if they are occurring in regularity.
5. Mood and personality changes.
Alzheimer’s can produce anxiety, confusion, depression or suspicion. It can make people become upset much more easily, especially when they’re away from home and out of their normal routine.
6. Poor judgment.
Having poor judgment with money or neglecting grooming habits can be a cause for concern.
7. Struggling with language.
An early sign for Alzheimer’s is difficulty with vocabulary, such as calling things by the wrong name, inability to follow or join a conversation and repeating the same stories.
8. Trouble completing familiar tasks.
Trouble driving to a familiar place, forgetting how to cook a simple meal or remembering the rules of a favorite game are red flags, especially if they happen repeatedly.
9. Vision problems.
Vision problems can be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s. You may notice difficulty with balance or trouble reading. Your loved one may also have problems judging distances and determining color or contrast, causing issues with driving.
10. Withdrawal from social or work activities.
Failing to complete work assignments, giving up favorite hobbies or avoiding social situations are behaviors that may warrant concern.
Multiple conditions can cause cognitive changes similar to those listed above, so it’s important to obtain a full medical evaluation to determine whether your symptoms are related to Alzheimer’s or something else. Regardless of your evaluation results, you should meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to get your legal affairs in order before your judgment and decision making ability has been compromised by any illness.
For more information on estate planning and elder law issues, please contact Davis & McCann, P. A., Dodge City, KS. We are members of Wealth Counsel, a national consortium of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). We focus our practice on providing clients with the best legal advice on Estate Planning, Medicaid and Long-term Care Planning, Family Business/Small Business Succession Planning, Probate, Trust Administration, Real Estate Transactions, and related matters.
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