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Was that a “Senior Moment” or a sign of Dementia?

As we age, it is not uncommon for memories to dull but it is not a guarantee that this will happen to everyone. In fact, there are numerous measures we can take today to keep our minds as sharp as possible throughout our lives. Remaining active, socially engaged, a good diet and exercise, proper sleep, and challenging your mind through a variety of “brain exercises” will all play important roles in how strong your mind is over the years. This is important because dementia and conditions such as Alzheimer’s has emerged as one of the leading factors contributing to people needing long term care and a shortened life expectancy.   In fact, Alzheimer’s disease has become one of the most common conditions impacting seniors in the United States.  Over 5.2 million Americans are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and with a half million people dying annually (more than prostate and breast cancer combined) it is now the 5th leading cause of death for those aged 65 and over.  http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp  This is a particularly insidious affliction because it not only robs someone of their memories but it has a devastating impact on the entire family.  So often, the need to provide long term care support falls on family members in a number of ways.  If you have a loved on now suffering from Alzheimer’s, you may be asking yourself some very tough questions.  Are you currently acting as a caregiver? Are you now responsible for finding appropriate care? Are you providing financial support while trying to figure out how to pay for long term care?  For many families the answer to these questions is “YES” to all of the above. Those suffering with Alzheimer’s require a very specific form of care that is meant to address both their medical needs and their safety.  You will want to seek out specifically licensed Memory Care facilities that are equipped to provide 24-hour care and protection for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.  These facilities have been designed to provide cognitive-centric programs, medications, nutrition, and a safe/secure living environment.  But, because this is a more intensive care environment than an assisted living community or a nursing home it can be very expensive.   Some of the costs of care such as approved medications can be covered by Medicare, but much of the costs of Memory Care are private pay because they are considered non-medical.  Assistance with activities of daily living (ADL’s) and providing a 24-hour secure environment to prevent wandering are both examples of nonmedical necessities that must be paid for out-of-pocket.  Medicaid can also pay for care for those who financially qualify as being below the poverty line and with advanced enough conditions to also qualify medically.

Four key areas you will want to focus on for your loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s: 1- Recognizing if you or a family member is acting as a caregiver and the need to access professional care. 2- Locating licensed Memory Care facilities that will provide an appropriate and secure environment. 3- Cost of care is expensive and you need to understand what is covered by Medicare, what is going to be out-of-pocket as “private pay”, and if you will be able to financially and medically qualify for Medicaid. 4- You must get the legal framework in place to be able to act on behalf of your loved once they have lost the capacity to act with a “sound mind”.  This means establishing the right family member as the “Power of Attorney” or if things have progressed beyond the point that a voluntary POA can be established it would become necessary to get a court ordered “Conservatorship” to make sure financial and health decisions are being managed correctly.

What can people do to help prevent dementia? There are brain exercises to pursue on a regular basis such as reading and writing, math/word games, puzzles, and strategy games such as cards and chess. Physical exercise, diet, sleep, limiting stress, and avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol will all contribute to maintaining a healthy brain and mental sharpness. What can people do to recognize dementia? It is important to recognize the differences between the normal effects of aging on mental sharpness and the onset of dementia.  It is normal for problem solving and thinking to slow down as we age, for memory to fade, and to see a decrease in concentration and attention span. But, there are more significant signs of diminished mental capacity that could indicate the onset of dementia such as impaired communication skills, change of personality and inappropriate behavior, confusing time and location, poor judgement and reasoning, physical problems with balance and dexterity, and a deterioration of physical appearance in grooming and safety.  Pay attention for a loved one exhibiting these signs: the same questions are being asked repeatedly, getting disoriented in familiar places, can’t recognize or confuses family members, and a loss of ability to care of themselves both physically (eating, grooming) and functionally (routine tasks of independent living).


Adapted from: The American Medical Association  Many families will not recognize that dementia is afflicting a loved one. Compounding the difficulty for families is that long term care is a topic ignored by most people until they find themselves in a crisis situation.  The sooner one arm themselves with information about dementia and how long term care works, how to pay for it, and the legal implications they are facing; the better the outcome will be for themselves and their loved one.



David Wingate is an elder law attorney at the Elder Law Office of David Wingate, LLC. The elder law office services clients with powers of attorneys, living wills, Wills, Trusts, Medicaid and asset protection. The Elder Law office has locations in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland.

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