I often hear people refer to all types of dementia as Alzheimer’s. While Alzheimer’s is the most common of dementias, it is by no means the only type. Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning, such as paying bills or becoming lost while driving.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, which interferes with their ability to communicate with each other. When brain cells are not communicating normally, thinking, behavior, and feelings can all be affected. Different types of dementia affect different areas of the brain.
Most types of dementia are progressive, Alzheimer’s being the most common; however, there are dementias which are reversible, such as side effects to medication, excessive use of alcohol, and (surprisingly) urinary tract infections. Treat the underlying issue, and the dementia goes away!
There is no one test for dementia, and doctors typically diagnose it based on medical history, physical examination, tests, and changes in the patient’s “base line” functionality. For example, picture a person who is normally neat to a fault, always dressed and coiffed nicely, and has an orderly home. If they start to let things pile up, let the house get dusty, forget to bathe, or wear the same clothes for days at a time, these may be signs that there is some kind of dementia occurring. However, a person who was never overly concerned with cleanliness and personal hygiene would not raise any flags because their house was unkempt or they wore the same clothes more than one day in a row.
If you are concerned that a loved one may be suffering from dementia, the best place to start is with their primary care physician. He or she is most likely to know the person’s “norm” and be able to determine if they have dementia with a high level of certainty. Diagnosing the type of dementia is more difficult and may require the assistance of a specialist such as a neurologist or gero-psychologist.
As scary as a diagnosis of dementia may seem, the longer the condition remains undiagnosed, the fewer options are available to slow down the progression of the disease; the medications available today are most effective on patients with mild to moderate impairment. It is also important to remember that, even with a diagnosis, it is very possible to continue to lead active, healthy lives, to continue enjoying one’s hobbies, to maintain loving and meaningful friendships and relationships. Of course, dementia does make it more difficult to do certain things, but with the right knowledge and support, it is possible for someone with dementia to live a full and wonderful life.
It is also important to remember that you don’t have to do this alone. There are support groups, care managers, legal experts, all available and ready to support you and your entire family through this process, wherever you may be on your journey, and in whatever capacity we can best be of service. If you have any questions or comments, please call or email me. It is my honor to serve you and your loved ones navigate these challenging transitions.
Other sites which may provide further information:
What is Dementia?
Several articles came out this month about the new law firm! Here is a link to one and .pdf’s of the others. This is such an exciting time for us and I am thrilled that my wonderful community seems to share in our joy!
Adam and I would love to see you anytime you are in the down-town area – just stop in and say “hi!”
Sneak Preview Article
Ashland Living Article
Cheri Elson Sperber, Drescher Elson Sperber, P.C.
Estate Planning: it is something most Americans avoid and more often than not, never get around to. The excuses range from “Estate planning is too confusing” to “I don’t have anything to leave behind” to “I will get around to it next year.” By having an estate plan, however, one offers one’s family members peace of mind during a difficult period.
The four main documents in an estate plan are: Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, and Advance Directive for Health Care.
A Will is the legal instrument that permits a person to make decisions on how his or her estate will be managed and distributed after death. If there is no Will, the person has died intestate and State laws will dictate how the estate is distributed. It is important to note that a Will does not avoid probate (the legal process in which a decedent’s assets are distributed under court supervision); however, it will ensure your assets are distributed to the people and in the manner you desire.
One of the simplest ways to avoid probate, a Trust is a legal arrangement in which a Trustee holds legal title to property for a beneficiary. There are three main “players” in a Trust: Settlor, Trustee, and Beneficiary. The Settlor is typically the only person who can make changes to the Trust document. In a conventional living (or intervivos) Trust, the Settlor, Beneficiary, and Trustee are initially the same person. It is only when the Settlor becomes unable to handle his or her own financial affairs that a successor Trustee (chosen by the Settlor) takes over the management of the Trust. The Trust assets are to be used first and foremost for the benefit of the Settlor, with the remainder beneficiaries receiving an interest in the Trust only after the Settlor’s death (the same way that a person’s estate passes to his or her beneficiaries under a Will).
The Durable Power of Attorney for Finances (DPA) names the person responsible for managing your finances in the event you are unable to manage them yourself. Even in a Trust-centered estate plan, the DPA plays an important role, governing the assets held outside the Trust. In the event of your incapacity, your successor Trustee will take over and manage your Trust assets while your agent under the DPA will manage all non-trust assets.
An Advance Directive for Health Care combines a power of attorney for health care and a living will, or directive to physicians, into one document. It allows you to name an agent to speak with the doctors and make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them on your own.
When properly drafted, an estate plan is a powerful tool not only in the event of person’s death, but also during the person’s life. When deciding on a professional to assist you in drawing up your estate plan, be sure to choose someone who specializes in this area of law. This will help ensure your plan works effectively not only after your death, but during your life as well.
As we move through life, what we want and who we want in charge changes. Estate plans are designed to grow and develop as we do and would be reviewed periodically. I recommend reviewing your plan on an annual basis – you may not need to change it each year, but looking at it each will help keep it fresh in your mind, as well as help ensure any necessary changes are caught and addressed quickly.
If you have an estate plan already in place and want to be certain it meets your needs, I am happy to review it with you. An estate planning attorney in California since 2001, and now also licensed to practice law in Oregon, I am uniquely qualified to review your current plan with you and help you make any changes which may be desired.