Friday, February 10, 2017

The Long Goodbye

The associate minister at my church once said he lost his mother twice—once when she no longer recognized him and once when she passed away. His mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association “2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It was the fastest growing cause of death by disease diagnosis in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013 (up 71%). Currently no way exists to cure, prevent, or effectively slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In addition, more the 15 million Americans are providing care for an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. In 2015, dementia and Alzheimer’s was estimated to cost approximately $226 billion (with about $153 billion of that being borne by Medicare/Medicaid). Planning for this type of disease poses many challenges; we will discuss some of them here.

Warning Signs of Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease has ten warning signs. These signs do not always indicate Alzheimer’s but may be useful in diagnosing the problem. Every individual will not necessarily have all ten symptoms. These ten signs are as follows:
  1. Memory loss that disrupts ordinary life—forgetting dates/events or asking the same questions repeatedly.
  2. Difficulty with planning or problem solving—monitoring and paying routine bills.
  3. Difficulty in completing routine tasks—driving to a familiar place or repeating common tasks at work.
  4. Confusing Time and Places—forgetting where they are and how they got there.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships—the inability to judge distances (a significant problem in driving).
  6. Having a problem with words in writing and speaking—not remembering the name of common items.
  7. Misplacing items—putting an item in an unusual place (car keys in the refrigerator) and not remembering how they got there.
  8. Declining or poor judgement—large, unnecessary purchases or donations to telemarketers.
  9. Withdrawing from work/social activities—no longer participating in long standing activities which previously had brought enjoyment.
  10. Changes in personality---becoming more easily upset, depressed, or confused.
Stages of Decline

Dementia is a progressive disease. The earlier the identification and diagnosis, the easier to plan effectively.

In the early stage, financial mismanagement is one of the most frequently displayed signs of the disease. The inability to manage a bank account or inability to pay routine bills becomes more obvious. Misplacing items and trouble remembering things becomes more prevalent. Family members may begin to see these signs first; this situation becomes more problematic if they lack direct contact with individual on a routine basis. At this stage, work with the individual to begin preparations. Since dementia will progress, a finite “window of opportunity” exists to establish all planning and legal work necessary to prepare for care.

Consult with medical personnel to confirm a diagnosis. Discuss the implications of the disease on the legal, financial, and caregiving items associated with the disease. Elicit comments/preferences from the individual in these matters. Make sure all estate planning documents are up to date and represent the individual’s wishes. Of critical importance is the appointment of powers of attorney (giving another person the power to act on behalf of the diagnosed family member). Ask your family member to take you along on meetings with doctors, attorneys, tax advisors, and financial advisors.

In the second stage of moderate decline, financial skills deteriorate even further. The family member may become more easily frustrated and begin to withdraw socially. Wandering may begin at this stage, and a caregiver may become necessary. At this stage, the appointed power of attorney should become the manager of the family member’s financial affairs. Being the caregiver for a family member at this stage can be extremely time consuming and stressful. If the caregiver is also a family member, preserving the health of the caregiver is extremely important (see below). An excessively stressed caregiver cannot provide the needed care to an affected person in an efficient manner.

In the final stage or severe decline, the dementia patient will have a difficult time remembering (discussions, events, meetings, etc.). Caregivers may notice mood changes or changes in personality, and the patient may need assistance with the activities of daily living (eating, toileting, etc.). At this stage, institutional care may also become necessary.

Caring for the Caregiver

Alzheimer’s patients have an average lifespan of four to eight years after diagnosis of the disease. However, some individuals may not be diagnosed in a timely manner or may have a physical constitution that extends their lifetimes. Caring for family members with Alzheimer’s takes a toll (both physically and mentally) on the caregiver. The Alzheimer’s Association has prepared a list of ten indications of stress on the caregiver:
  1. Denial-Mom/Dad doesn’t have this and things will get better.
  2. Anger-at the patient (having to answer the same questions over and over again).
  3. Withdrawal-from the activities or social life once enjoyed (“I don’t have time for that.”)
  4. Anxiety-about what the future holds for both the patient and caregiver.
  5. Depression-an inability to cope with the situation.
  6. Physical Exhaustion-being too tired to physically perform daily activities.
  7. Lack of Sleep-constantly aware of the pressures to avoid the patient’s needs or wandering.
  8. Irritability, Moodiness, etc.-things that can lead to negative actions on behalf of the caregiver.
  9. Lack of Concentration-pre-occupation that leads to an inability to complete normal tasks.
  10. Health Problems-physical deterioration of the caregiver’s own health.
After all, if the caregiver becomes incapacitated, the problems compound. Available resources can help the caregiver. The Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center (alz.org/care) is a good place to begin; it can help gain  a better understanding of what the caregiver can expect as the disease progresses. A support helpline is also available (Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline- 800-272-3900).

Unfortunately, we at Paragon Financial Advisors have experience with dementia situations. We have worked with clients and/or family members facing these problems on behalf of a loved one. No easy outcome exists, but proper planning can ease some of the stress. If you should see the need in your family, please call us. We can help with the financial preparations required. Paragon Financial Advisors is a fee-only registered investment advisory company located in College Station, Texas.  We offer financial planning and investment management services to our clients. 



 
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