Today is World Alzheimer’s Day, a global effort to raise awareness and challenge the stigma around Alzheimer’s disease. We read about it, we fear the disease and we still avoid discussing it with aging loved ones.
It’s not just our elders who fear delving into the subject of possible dementia. It’s us, too, the adult children. It’s too scary to think it could happen to our own family members. But it can, and when that happens, families experience extreme stress arising from zero preparation for this possibility.
Here are three tips that can help every family avoid extreme stress with aging parents in failing cognitive health, by discussion and planning.
It’s essential to understand that Alzheimer’s disease shows no mercy for anyone. The statistics are that at least one in three people aged 85 and up will develop this dementia. Knowing that, here are some basics every family needs to do about your elders’ future.
- Discuss legal needs. Know the reality that aging takes its toll on us. We can lose our independence in handling finances, doing our daily activities and managing our health. Elders need to ensure that someone is appointed to step in to do things when they can no longer do them. That means having legal documents—Durable Power of Attorney and Advanced Health Care Directives (also called “healthcare proxy” or similar names) as well as a will and/or trust. If you are an adult child, initiate the conversation, as they probably won’t bring it up on their own.
- Discuss money. Many people do need help as their health declines. Where do they want to be if/when that happens? Do they have assets to pay for help or an alternative living location with help? Do they expect YOU to provide help, whether you want to or not?
- Discuss their preferences. If you have a belief that you’d put mom in assisted living if she needed help every day, have you asked her if she were willing to do that? It’s unlikely that you can force such a choice on someone who is capable of expressing their wants.
If your loved one shows early signs of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, failure to plan for their caregiving needs is a serious mistake. The burden of that mistake can fall on your shoulders. When you take the time and put in the effort to bring up the topic and have a series of discussions about it, you’re many steps ahead of those who totally avoid the issues because it’s uncomfortable. Of course it’s uncomfortable! No one likes talking about it. But when you avoid it, you will sound like some of our clients at AgingParents.com, where we consult with families of elders on health, legal and financial matters. These are the comments of adult children, real cases, in which no one ever discussed the future of aging parents until after a crisis:
“Oh, this is horrible! We had no idea. My parents never prepared for any of this. We are lost, and feeling so much pressure. We work, we’re raising our kids, and we don’t know how to handle this!”
“We brought Grandpa across the country to live with us. We were completely clueless about what that would mean. It has totally disrupted all of our lives, he’s so demanding and needy. His dementia is progressing so fast.”
“I never got along with my mother. Now’s she’s pretty helpless. I don’t really want to watch over her and I can’t take care of her myself. I feel so guilty. I have to put her in a nursing home.”
You can set yourself apart from this kind of grief. Create a plan to address the issue with your aging parents. Put it on the calendar. Show up. Start the conversation. If your elders resist talking this through, persist. Gather allies and friends to help you. If you have no information, no legal authority to act, and no idea about how to manage possible caregiving needs, you will be stuck and stressed. Take care of yourself by doing what is necessary for your own peace of mind.