You may have noticed the changes in your mom’s or dad’s behavior a while ago, but now your suspicions are finally confirmed: your parent is dealing with a form of dementia.
At first, it might have seemed like simple absent-mindedness, such as forgetting about dinner plans or where they parked their car. But, eventually, the memory-related problems got worse: forgetting important dates, language skills, or even the building they live in. Now—after several doctor’s appointments, tests, and examinations—a diagnosis can finally put a name to the symptoms that were causing you concern.
Dementia is a syndrome that can take many shapes and forms. It’s an umbrella term for the variety of conditions that can cause a person to lose cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration, communication, and reasoning.
You’ll likely be dealing with a range of emotions, changes in relationships, and new treatment plans or routines. While it’s important to take time to adjust to the news of a diagnosis, you must also be realistic about the future and make solid plans for your parent in the long-term. For instance, there are important legal documents like a Last Will or a Power of Attorney (POA) that you’ll need to create before your parent loses their mental capacity in order for them to be effective later.
In this post, we’ll go over some of the first steps to take when planning for a parent who’s dealing with dementia.
How to Talk to Your Parent About Dementia
Whether your parents’ dementia diagnosis was a surprise or not, it’s helpful to talk to your parents about the emotions you’re both feeling and any questions either of you might have. And while it can be difficult for your parents to talk about their diagnosis, depending on how far the dementia has progressed, it’s important to be honest and open with each other as soon as possible if you want to set up a strong support system.
It’s also helpful to write down your parent’s thoughts, feelings, and questions and bring those concerns to their doctor. Your mom or dad might be too embarrassed to bring them up themselves—or they might just forget. A doctor can help treat certain symptoms, ease worries, and point you to helpful resources or local support groups.
Talk to Your Parent About Legal Documents
Now is also the time to ask your parent if they’ve created a Last Will and Testament. It’s important for your parent to create a Last Will while they are still of sound mind, which is a requirement for a Will to be valid in most states.
Thinking about death isn’t necessarily pleasant, but this task can encourage your mom or dad to focus on some of the positives: they haven’t yet lost all of their cognitive abilities, they can reflect on the life they’ve built so far, they can envision the legacy they’d like to leave behind.
A person with dementia may still be able to make or change a Will but they’ll need to demonstrate comprehension of:
- Their estate
- How they want to divide their assets
- Who they want to inherit their property
- What a Will is and does
- The consequences of the wishes they express in a Will
In this case, a doctor may need to provide a letter stating that your parent’s dementia doesn’t affect their ability to make decisions about their Will at this time.
Read More: What Happens If You Die Without a Will?
How to Plan for Your Parent’s Long-term Care
Once you’ve received a diagnosis, it’s important to evaluate your parent’s current capabilities to see where they might need support. It’s also recommended to research how the dementia will progress. Different types of dementia can affect people in different ways and this can give you an idea of what to expect in the future.
Caring for a parent with dementia can have a heavy emotional and physical toll, so don’t be afraid to reach out for additional help. You can check out your local Alzheimer’s Society to find services, resources, and support groups in your area. You may be inclined to be the primary caregiver or you might prefer to seek professional help. In either case, you should ensure that your parent’s best interests are always put first.
If you won’t be able to dedicate the time and effort required to care for your parent, hiring an in-home personal care assistant may be the best option. Alternately, you could consider a special care facility where your parent will receive 24-hour care.
Discussing Quality of Life with Your Parent
No matter which route you decide to take, it’s important to involve your parent in the planning process for their long-term care. Of course, you need to consider how a caregiver can support your parent’s declining cognitive abilities, but their emotional needs should be met as well.
Talk to your mom or dad about the things in life that are meaningful to them and help them fill out a Personal Care Profile to give to their caregiver, informing them of your parent’s personality, preferences, interests, and beliefs. This allows a caregiver to:
- find activities your parent is likely to enjoy
- interact with your parent in a way that they’re comfortable with
- help your parent maintain their quality of life and sense of self
Read More: How to Deal with Caregiver Stress
How to Help Your Parent Make Important Decisions
Before your parent loses their mental capacity, you should help them create a Durable Power of Attorney form. With this document, your mom or dad can appoint a representative (called an attorney-in-fact) to act on their behalf and in their best interest when they cannot personally do so.
A durable POA is important because at some point your parent may be unable to make reasonable decisions regarding financial, legal, or other personal matters. It’s up to the attorney-in-fact to manage your parent’s affairs according to their wishes.
You parent’s attorney-in-fact can be a family member, friend, or a professional such as an accountant or lawyer. The important thing is to appoint someone who is responsible, trustworthy, and knowledgeable in the areas in which they are granted power.
It should be noted that a general POA cannot grant someone power to make medical decisions. To do that, you’ll need to create a Living Will (also known as a Health Care Directive or Medical Power of Attorney). In a Living Will, your parent can dictate their preferences regarding certain treatments, which can spare family members the trouble of making tough decisions.
Helping your parent create a POA as soon as possible after a dementia diagnosis is one of the best ways to ensure that important decisions are made according to your parent’s wishes.
Ongoing Support and Care
Adjusting to the news of your parent’s dementia diagnosis is difficult for everyone involved but, by following these first steps, you can ensure your parent’s transition away from an independent lifestyle is smooth and supported.