When This Is Us Becomes This Is You: Navigating a Loved One’s Journey Through Dementia

By Published On: January 31, 2024Categories: Aging Parents6.3 min read

The television show This Is Us resonated with a wide audience, particularly members of the sandwich generation—those simultaneously navigating the challenges of raising children and caring for aging parents. The show’s portrayal of family was both heartfelt and heart-wrenching at times, striking a deep chord with those of us who saw reflections of our own lives in its narratives.

One of the show’s most compelling storylines brought to light an often-hidden challenge that many families face: an aging parent’s struggle with cognitive decline. For many viewers, the family matriarch’s dementia diagnosis was more than just relatable; it served as a crucial reminder of the practical steps families need to take to protect their loved ones as they age.

Indeed, supporting a loved one with dementia involves much more than providing emotional care. It necessitates proactive planning to address the financial and legal challenges that often arise when they can no longer make decisions for themselves. By taking these steps now, you and your family can experience the comfort and reassurance that comes with knowing your loved ones’ financial well-being and best interests are securely safeguarded.

Understanding the Financial Implications of Dementia

Although the percentage of individuals diagnosed with dementia is on the decline, the absolute number of those affected is projected to double by 2040, primarily due to the aging of the baby boomer generation. This trend suggests that a significant number of us will inevitably face the challenges associated with a loved one’s dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis in our lifetimes.

A dementia diagnosis brings with it substantial financial implications and risks, not just for the individual diagnosed but also for their family. Grasping the full scope of these financial challenges is essential for effective planning and management.

Some of the key financial aspects and risks associated with dementia include:

  • Increased healthcare costs
  • Long-term care needs
  • Insurance limitations
  • Legal and estate planning considerations
  • Need for ongoing financial management
  • Vulnerability to financial abuse and fraud

Preparing for Increased Healthcare Costs

Dementia often leads to escalating healthcare expenses, including costs for advanced medical treatment and prescription medications. These expenses can increase as the condition progresses.

Many patients will also require long-term care, either at home or in a specialized facility. This can be expensive and significantly strain family finances, especially if around-the-clock supervision or specialized dementia care is needed.

To ensure your family is financially prepared for these potential costs, consider the following steps:

  • Seek financial guidance. Consult with a trusted advisor to develop a plan for managing and potentially reallocating assets to fund long-term care. This might include investment strategies or converting assets into more liquid forms.
  • Consider long-term care insurance. A long-term care insurance policy can help cover the costs of home care or facility care that aren’t typically covered by standard health insurance or Medicare. However, keep in mind these policies can be expensive, and not everyone qualifies. Depending on your family’s circumstances and needs, there may be better, more cost-effective options.
  • Research care facilities. If you think a care facility is a potential need, be sure to research your options early to gain an understanding of the costs, the services provided, and how they align with your insurance and savings.

It’s also wise to discuss the financial implications of dementia with family members, including everyone’s ability to contribute, whether it’s through direct financial support or providing care. This can help create a more secure financial foundation, ensuring your aging loved ones receive the care they need without putting undue financial strain on the family.

Prioritizing Estate Planning

A dementia diagnosis undoubtedly brings a sense of urgency and complexity to the estate planning process. In addition to preparing legal documents in a timely manner, ongoing management and adjustment of these plans is often necessary to ensure they continue to serve your family’s best interests.

To safeguard the well-being of a loved one with dementia and ensure their wishes are honored, consider the following legal steps:

  • Establish power of attorney (POA). Establishing a healthcare and financial POA is vital to ensure a trusted person can make decisions on behalf of an individual with dementia. While a healthcare POA oversees medical care and decisions, a financial POA handles financial matters and transactions.
  • Consider a guardianship or conservatorship. In cases where powers of attorney aren’t established before the individual’s capacity diminishes, it may be necessary to appoint a guardian or conservator. This can be a complex and sometimes lengthy process, involving court proceedings to legally designate someone to make decisions on behalf of the person with dementia.
  • Put advance healthcare directives in place. These directives allow individuals with dementia to express their wishes regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care in the early stages of the disease, ensuring their preferences are respected when they can no longer communicate their wishes.
  • Set up asset protection strategies. Dementia often leads to ongoing financial management challenges. Estate planning in this context might involve setting up trusts or other strategies to protect your loved one’s assets, ensuring their resources go toward their care and benefit.

If possible, it’s best to ensure all necessary estate planning documents are in place long before a diagnosis is made. Otherwise, you’ll want to act swiftly to establish or update these documents while your loved one still has the legal capacity to make decisions.

Avoiding Financial Elder Abuse

Lastly, people suffering from dementia tend to be more vulnerable to financial fraud and elder abuse. Since dementia affects memory, judgment, and the ability to make informed decisions, it can be difficult for these individuals to recognize scams or identify when others are taking advantage of them.

Other aspects of cognitive decline, including a growing dependence on others, increased social isolation, and communication challenges can make someone with dementia more susceptible to financial exploitation. Abusers may try to coerce them into signing legal documents or initiating financial transactions without fully understanding the implications.

To reduce the risk of financial elder abuse, consider the following steps:

  • Regularly monitor financial activities. Family members or trusted advisors should regularly review bank statements, credit reports, and other financial documents for unusual activity.
  • Educate caregivers and family members. It’s important to raise awareness with caregivers and family members about the risks of financial abuse and the specific signs to look for.
  • Keep an open line of communication. Maintain regular, open communication with your loved one and their caregivers, creating an environment where they can openly discuss and address concerns.

In some cases, more drastic steps may be necessary to protect your loved one’s financial stability and resources. An estate planning attorney or wealth advisor can help your family determine the best way to approach this issue based on the specific circumstances.

Navigating an Uncertain Future

Watching an aging parent or family member decline due to dementia or Alzheimer’s can be emotionally devastating. It can also create a host of legal and financial complexities for the diagnosed individual and their family. When “This Is Us” becomes “This Is You,” it’s crucial to understand the challenges that may lie ahead and have a plan for managing them effectively.

Partnering with an experienced wealth advisor can help illuminate the path forward. At CornerCap, we provide support for every aspect of our clients’ financial health and well-being, from researching and identifying assisted living facilities to developing a comprehensive estate plan and communicating your wishes to your loved ones. Contact us today for an evaluation and let us help you navigate an uncertain future with clarity and confidence.

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