Ready or Not, Here it May Come
Your Cheat Sheet for Dementia
“Dementia” is a global medical term used to describe different conditions and diseases that share common symptoms such as impaired memory, performance of daily activities and the ability to communicate.
Some common types of these conditions or diseases are Alzheimer Disease, Vascular disorders, Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
About 20% of the causes of dementia are reversible. The most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s, is currently not reversible.
Many elderly people have some type of age-related forgetfulness that is not related to dementia. Never assume that your condition is actually dementia.
Dementia and incapacity do not have identical meanings. Dementia is a medical term while incapacity is a legal term. In Texas, “incapacity” is defined as an adult who, because of a physical or mental condition, is substantially unable to: (a) provide food, clothing, or shelter for himself or herself; (b) care for the person’s own physical health; or (c) manage the person’s own financial affairs. Every person is presumed to have capacity until a court pronounces otherwise.
Feel free to recite that last sentence to anyone who leans into your face and shouts “how are we doing today, dearie?”
The Alzheimer’s Association has compiled the following list of 10 early-warning signs of dementia:
- memory loss that disrupts daily life;
- challenges in planning or solving problems;
- difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure;
- confusion with time or place;
- trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships;
- new problems with words in speaking or writing;
- misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps;
- decreased or poor judgment;
- withdrawal from work or social activities; and/or
- changes in mood and personality.
Before you get all panicky, remember that there are a lot of medical conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms. A medication reaction, anesthesia hang-over, urinary tract infection, stress, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies and depression are common villains.
If you think you may have dementia, then go see your primary doctor, a neurologist or a geriatrician. Your doctor will consider your medical history, medication history and symptoms. He or she will also conduct some tests. You may get a CT, MRI or PET scan. You may also find yourself in a little room drawing clocks and reciting types of animals.
If you are told that you have dementia, then it is very important to learn as much as you can about the exact type of illness or condition. That will tell you if your dementia is progressive (some are not) or treatable. It will also give you an invaluable opportunity to plan about your care and finances.
There are some medications that are used to temporarily improve dementia symptoms. Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne are used for memory and judgment. Namenda is used for memory and learning. Other medications can be prescribed to treat depression, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, parkinsonism or agitation.
Use your remaining time wisely. Put your people in place: doctors, lawyer, CPA, financial advisor, agents, family.
Then go live your life.
Virginia Hammerle is a licensed Texas attorney. Her practice includes estate planning, litigation, guardianship and probate law. See hammerle.com for her blog and newsletter sign-up. This column does not constitute legal advice.