World Alzheimer’s Month
Alzheimer’s dementia is a dreaded diagnosis. As an estate planning attorney, I hear from those afflicted with Alzheimer’s or their loved ones almost daily as they desperately search for answers at various stages of the illness.
As an effort to raise awareness about this disease and to challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia, World Alzheimer’s Day is observed on September 21st, and locally, we have the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Sunday, October 17th at the Mountaineer Mall – all are welcome!
The statistics regarding Alzheimer’s dementia are overwhelming. On a national level we have 6.2 million Americans over the age of 65 years who have Alzheimer’s dementia, which is 1 in 9 persons in that age group. It is estimated that we have 39,000 West Virginians with Alzheimer’s dementia. In addition to the impact on those who have the disease, the impact on the caregivers and our economy is staggering. In West Virginia, it is estimated that in 2020 85,000 caregivers provided a total of 145,000,000 hours of unpaid care which is valued at $1,971,000, with two-thirds of the unpaid caregivers being women.
Dementia is a brain condition that affects the parts of the brain that control memory and language, but it is not a specific disease, it is an overall term describing a group of symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, it destroys brain cells and nerves, disrupting the transmitters that carry messages in the brain, particularly those responsible for storing memories.
Most people who develop Alzheimer’s dementia are over the age of 65 years. However, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia should not be considered a normal part of aging. Although the risk of developing the disease increases with age, younger people can develop this degenerative disease as well.
The potential of a dementia diagnosis along with the other uncertainties of our senior years can be unsettling. Therefore, we should take control by preparing for our future. All adults should have an estate plan and it should be updated during life’s transitions such as changes in family status, certain medical diagnosis, or aging issues. If you are of the age where you are contemplating when you should retire, or draw on your social security income, or are applying for Medicare, your estate plan should also include elder law provisions.
Elder law provisions are included in estate plans to address issues such as long-term care planning, public benefits, end-of-life issues, veterans’ benefits, and the legal rights of the elderly. If you already have estate planning documents, you should not presume they have the appropriate provisions in them. Usually, these issues would be addressed specifically with your elder law attorney in discussions regarding the design of your documents and the provisions should have been explained to you prior to you executing those documents.
The cost of procrastination can be quite expensive because even if you are currently healthy or consider yourself too young to have these serious health issues, you do not have to be elderly to experience a serious injury from an accident, a stroke, or a new diagnosis of a long-term illness. When you have made your important decisions in advance, it is easier for you, as well as your trusted helpers. While these conversations may be uncomfortable, they are well worth the peace of mind in the event of a crisis. Remember, it is never too early to plan!