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Helping Parents with Alzheimer’s

It’s a diagnosis no one wants to hear: your father has Alzheimer’s disease. All sorts of things run through your mind. What’s next? How will we care for dad? What about mom? How will the family cope with this?

The first place to go should be your parent’s doctor. Most of us have a general knowledge of what Alzheimer’s is and what it means, but knowledge is power. Here are a few things you should consider speaking with the doctor about.

  1.  Why Alzheimer’s? What prompted the doctor to make this diagnosis rather than some other form of dementia? Knowing why the diagnosis was made will help both your parent and the rest of the family accept that dad really does have this disease.
  2. What medications are available for treatment? A discussion of medications opens whole areas of information. What side effects does the medication have? How does it work and what symptoms will it relieve? At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, so be prepared to be told that. What about herbal remedies or non-traditional treatments?
  3. Are clinical trials available to participate in? By participating in clinical trials, a patient might have access to cutting-edge technology for free. But you need to be aware of risks of clinical trials. Also, your doctor can advise you whether she feels that participation in a particular clinical trial is worth the risk.
  4. Will you (the doctor) be available if I have further questions? Caregivers need to have access to the medical provider. You shouldn’t expect to be able to call every day or even every week and spend time talking to the doctor, but if specific questions come up, you need to feel like the doctor is there for you as the representative of the patient.

In order to talk to a parent’s doctor, you’ll need a medical power of attorney. In Utah this is part of what is called the Advance Medical Directive. The Advance Directive appoints a “health care agent,” usually a spouse or child, to speak with the medical providers, receive information, ask questions, see charts and medical history and otherwise act on behalf of the patient. You must have one of these before trying to speak with a parent’s (or anyone’s) doctor.

Additionally, once a diagnosis is made, you should consult with an attorney about preparing a trust or durable power of attorney and will. Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental deterioration disease. When a person reaches a certain stage the law says she can no longer deal with her own affairs. Well before that happens you should take steps to allow someone else to take over your parent’s financial affairs. This can be done through a trust or durable power of attorney.  We recommend a trust over a durable power of attorney, but speak with your legal advisers about which is best in your case. You should also discuss the financial affairs and how things are titled with your parent.

Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or any form of dementia is scary. If you need help with the legal aspects of dealing with this disease, contact us.

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