As the population of older Americans continues to grow at a historic rate, the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease grows as well. Despite efforts to raise awareness about the disease, it remains somewhat of a mystery to most of us. Consequently, if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may not know what to do. To help you regain some of the control you may feel you lost with the diagnosis, here are some practical steps to take after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, deterioration of thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex. Unlike many other diseases, such as AIDS, experts do not believe Alzheimer’s has a single cause. Instead, they believe the disease is multi-faceted with a number of factors influencing the development of the disease. The complexity of the disease makes finding a cure, and even effective treatment for those suffering from the disease, more difficult. While there are some medications on the market now that help slow the cognitive decline that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s for some people, we are not yet close to finding a truly effective treatment regime, much less a cure.
Steps to Take after a Diagnosis
It is common to experience a feeling of helplessness after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s because there is no cure for the disease. While these feelings, as well as a range of other emotions, are perfectly normal, it often helps to focus on the things you can still control by taking the following steps:
- Prepare and execute advanced directives. The time will likely come when you can no longer make your own health care decisions. In California, a Power of Attorney for Health Care lets you name someone (your “Agent”) to make decisions about your health care when your primary doctor determines that you lack the ability to understand the nature and consequences of your health care decisions or the ability to make and communicate your, health care decisions. If you have strong feelings about end of life medical treatment, the only way to ensure that your wishes are honored is to execute an “Individual Instructions” which is California’s “Living Will.” It allows you to give specific instructions about any aspect of your health care, such as your wishes with regard to the provision, withholding, or withdrawal of treatment to keep you alive, as well as the provision of pain relief.
- Update your estate plan to ensure it includes incapacity planning. Numerous factors go into determining the progression of Alzheimer’s; however, at some point down the road, you will reach the point at which you are legally incapacitated. To ensure that someone of your choosing takes over control of your assets as well as personal decision-making for you, make sure you have an incapacity plan in place now.
- Make sure you are prepared for the high cost of long-term care. At some point, you will likely need the type of around the clock care and protection that is only available at a long-term care facility. The cost of that care will undoubtedly be prohibitive which is why you need to plan for it now. Like over half of all seniors today, you may need to rely on Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, to cover the cost of LTC. To ensure that you qualify for Medi-Cal when the time comes, incorporate Medi-Cal planning into your estate plan today.
- Put your wishes in writing. Loved ones are often unsure of how best to care for someone with Alzheimer’s. If family members cannot agree, conflict may occur which could even result in divisive and costly litigation. To help prevent that and provide some direction, take the time now to put down your wishes in writing. Let loved ones know how you feel about your care, your finances, and anything else that you want them to know.
Contact Roseville Elder Law Attorneys
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns about what to do after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law to find out today by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.