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Families are often paralyzed when they become aware that a family member is suffering from dementia. But for a number of reasons families must help the loved one take appropriate action as soon as they become aware of the problem.

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First, it is critical that appropriate medical help is obtained as soon as possible. Some treatable medical conditions can mimic symptoms of dementia, so it is sometimes possible to completely resolve the problem. Certain types of dementia respond to medications which can slow the process of the disease, affording your loved one a higher quality of life. However, an appropriate diagnosis of the type of dementia is critical: as the medications that slows one type of dementia, is detrimental to those with another type of dementia. So the first step for a family noticing cognitive changes is to seek medical care.

After a dementia diagnosis is made, the next critical step is doing legal planning. Finding, accessing, and financing appropriate care is best planned early in the process. Estate planning documents are a critical piece of this planning and they must be executed when the individual has sufficient capacity to make decisions and execute documents. The estate planing documents should be tailored to the problem that is facing the family; not all durable powers of attorney and trusts are designed to address the type of problems this individual is facing. The documents should be drafted in such a way to be able to fully utilize all benefits that the individual could become entitled to use. Some estate planning documents tie the hands of the fiduciary to utilize benefits.

While appropriate documents are critical piece of the legal planning required it is by no means the entire solution. Important decisions must be addressed about care needs, financing care, and advocating for care.

While facing the truth about a dementia diagnosis is difficult for all members of the family, appropriate planning can only be done when problems are addressed early in the process. The patient must be informed about the condition despite the fact that it will be devastating realization. We have met with many family members who have tried to shelter the client from the diagnosis out of concern for their feelings. But that sheltering can rob the client from their ability to obtain appropriate medical and legal assistance.