A diagnosis of dementia should trigger family action on a number of fronts. First and foremost, medical evaluation and testing should be initiated to rule out reversible causes. Even if no reversible causes are found, early treatment may prolong cognitive functioning. In addition to seeking medical treatment, the patient and family should seek qualified legal help to ensure that they are best positioned for the expected prognosis. Not only should the patient have appropriate legal documents in place to allow for surrogate decision makers, financial planning needs to be initiated in order to find a way to pay for the best care available. Most families struggle to determine what care is appropriate at the various stages of the illness. Understanding the prognosis and the disease trajectory for the problem diagnosed is critical to properly planning for the best care.
Alzheimers dementia is the most common type; it accounts for 60-80% of all dementias, according to the Alzheimers Association. The early symptoms of Alzheimers include difficulty remembering names and recent events along with apathy and depression. Most people are able to make legal decisions at this early stage. Later symptoms include impaired judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking. When the disease reaches this stage, it may be too late to make changes to legal and financial planning.
Vascular dementia, which was previously known as multi-infarct or post-stroke dementia, is less common than Alzheimer’s disease. The early symptoms of vascular dementia include impaired judgment or ability to make plans. These early symptoms have a greater impact on the patient’s ability to do legal planning.
Another type of dementia is dementia with Lewy bodies. The early symptoms include sleep disturbances, well-formed visual hallucinations, and muscle rigidity or other parkinsonian movement features. The clinical course of this type of dementia is greatly vacillating so a patient may have periods of ability to do legal planning until the later stages of the illness.
Some patients with Parkinson’s Disease develop dementia. The early symptoms of Parkinsons include problems with movement. Patients with early Parkinsons should consider their legal, financial and care implications early while they are able.
Planning in three domains, the legal, the financial and personal care is critical to those with a dementia diagnosis. The family and the patient can receive this type of assistance from a life care planning law firm.