Planning for Alzheimer’s Disease

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Planning for Alzheimer’s Disease

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Early diagnosis, treatment, and planning are important parts of managing Alzheimer’s Disease – not just for the patient and family members, but for medical professionals, as well.

This article discusses a recent law passed in Massachusetts.  The new law makes Alzheimer’s diagnosis, treatment, and study a high priority throughout the state.  The law creates a specific advisory committee to develop Alzheimer’s policy and report on the number and types of diagnoses each year.

The law also requires doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurses to receive specialized Alzheimer’s training as part of their continuing education license renewal procedure.  It requires protective services caseworkers to be trained in recognizing the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and how those symptoms may affect other treatment and planning.

Furthermore, doctors are required to report an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to a family member or legal representative of the patient.  The doctor must also provide information about care planning services, treatment options, and other supports.

Planning for Alzheimer’s includes both medical and non-medical supports.  While medical professionals can provide support for treatment and other measures, legal professionals can assist the individual with updating and implementing an effective estate plan.

Because Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia can progress rapidly, updating an estate plan is important to address early on in the diagnosis.  Not only is it important to review the disposition of assets after the individual’s death through a will or trust, but also reviewing lifetime documents, such as financial and medical powers of attorney, is important.

Financial powers of attorney can be implemented to allow a spouse, family member, or other trusted person to have the authority to manage the individual’s money and property.  This includes accessing bank accounts and paying bills, receiving and opening mail, communicating with insurance companies and taxing entities, and applying for government assistance (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid).

For those with Alzheimer’s, it may be appropriate to include more aggressive authority in a power of attorney, such as the authority to make gifts or create trusts.  If the individual needs nursing home or other long-term care in the future, these specific provisions can be useful in further estate or asset-protection planning.

Health care powers of attorney are equally important.  One of the effects of Alzheimer’s is losing the abilities to reason and communicate.  It is important to discuss the person’s wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care while he or she can still express those desires.  Memorializing those wishes in a legally-enforceable document is a way to be sure the individual’s wishes are implemented at a future time when he or she cannot make decisions for himself or herself.

Receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not easy.  It is also not easy to plan ahead for the cognitive decline that is likely to occur.  However, being prepared for the future – both medically and legally – is the best way to ensure family and friends will know how you feel about treatment and be able to carry out your wishes.  Find medical and legal professionals that you can trust to advise you correctly as you make plans.  Those professionals will be the same people in place to help your family members and friends as they care for you and handle your affairs after your death.