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In our last blog, we talked about how when families gather for the holidays, that sometimes adult children are confronted with the realization that their elder parents need help.  We talked about how “diplomatically finding documents” is necessary to determine the status of the elders’ legal planning.

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This article is written by guest blogger, Wendy Wells, a noted dementia expert and speaker.

Diplomatically finding documents

During early stages of dementia, your loved one may be an expert of disguise. They may do everything possible to hide their memory issues and become angry with you if you suggest something is wrong. This can make obtaining any information difficult. When having a conversation with your family member about their issues, do not assume that they have dementia. Assume that there is something going on, but leave it to the experts to diagnose. During your conversation, present yourself as a concerned family member and care partner. Let your loved one know that there are many diseases that can present with their symptoms and many are reversible. Encourage them to see their physician to “rule out” other possible causes.

Regardless of their decisions regarding an evaluation, it is important to inquire about and search for any advance directives and other important documents. If you are not aware of any existing documents, begin a search, preferably with your loved one. Again, present as a concerned care partner. Perhaps start the conversation discussing your own advance directives or bring up a story about a friend that had none, emphasizing the detriment that caused. If it appears that none exist, do not assume this to be true. Have your loved one assist you in going through papers around the house to help them organize things. Keep your eyes open for any relevant documents. Offer this search as a shredding party to clean out unnecessary papers that have accumulated. Look for any letters from attorneys, safe deposit box keys and any official looking papers. If your love one becomes upset or angry, stop and back off. Start at another time or offer to “clean up” papers for them.

If this search ends empty you may still have a window of time to do some pre-planning. Pre-planning is crucial for all of us, but especially for our elders. This cannot be emphasized enough. Let your loved one know that their choices matter and you are in their corner. It is always best to be prepared.