It is estimated that between four and five million Americans live with dementia, and that 1 out of 6 women and 1 out of 10 men living past age 55 will develop dementia. While causes, risk factors and effective treatments remain a subject of intense research, we know that the costs, both emotional and financial, are high.
The onset of dementia may be gradual and not readily apparent. As such, it becomes vital as we enter middle age to plan for the possibility that we or our family members will develop a dementing condition. After onset, the rate of decline differs among individuals, but as time goes on, it is inevitable that one will lose one’s ability to be involved in planning. As well, individuals in the early stages of dementia may be aware that they are starting a cognitive decline so may be defensive or otherwise emotionally resistant to the planning process. (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, National Institute on Aging).
My firm now includes a planning document specific to dementia. In addition to an Advance Health Care Directive, Durable Power of Attorney and HIPAA waiver (which I’ve covered in prior articles), our office recommends that clients complete a dementia care directive. This document details the care one wishes to receive in the advanced stages of dementia, the symptoms of which may include an inability to speak and difficulty with chewing and swallowing. The dementia directive allows one to describe how and to what extent one wishes to be fed, hydrated and kept comfortable, both physically and mentally.
While dementia remains a vexing medical issue, we can take steps now to communicate how we want to be cared for in the event we are faced with a dementia diagnosis.