Once your parent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease you must make certain that a plan is in place to protect her and your family. You cannot delay. In order to sign legal documents your parent must have the mental capacity to know and understand the act which she is engaging in and have a desire to engage in that transaction. Once your parent contracts Alzheimer’s disease her mental capacity may still be sufficient to sign the documents necessary to create a plan but action must be taken while she still has that capacity.
You should make sure the following 4 steps are taken to protect your parent and your family.
1. The parent must have a Durable Power of Attorney. With this power she names a representative/agent to make decisions on her behalf. A Financial Power of Attorney allows the representative to make financial decisions for her. The Medical Power of Attorney gives the representative the authority to make medical decisions. In some states the Medical Power is identified as a Health Care Proxy. Since these powers are specified as “Durable” they will still be valid if the individual is no longer mentally competent to make these decisions.
It is important that the parent select someone to have this power that he or she can trust and is easily accessible to help with financial and healthcare decisions. It may be one of the children, a close friend or adviser. A successor should also be named to take over the responsibility if the first person is no longer available.
2. Each parent should also have a will drafted specifying who should get their property at their death. . Again they must have the mental capacity to approve such a document. That means they must know who their family members are, what assets they have and whom they want them passed to. If they do not have a will the state they live in will determine how their assets are to be split up…
3. Your parent should also have Advance Directives in place. Advance Directives are documents that tell the Alzheimer’s patient’s family members, caregivers and doctors what their end of life choices are and what health care they want to receive. The family and healthcare professionals are expected to act in accordance with these wishes. Advanced Directives include a Living Will. The Living Will is a document that a person uses to control their medical care if they become mentally incapacitated and can’t make end of life health care decisions.
The Living Will should include a statement that if the person is mentally incapacitated certain instructions should be followed to provide medical treatment to them. It should also state when life-sustaining treatment should be terminated. If a patient contracts Alzheimer’s disease after completing a Living Will and is in the late stages of the disease, there is a question if medical treatment can be denied in accordance with the document. But although Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disease it is not defined as a terminal illness. When a person dies they do not die as a direct result of Alzheimer’s but as a result of another complication such as pneumonia.
4. Your parent must also have A DNR or do not resuscitate order on file with her care providers. A DNR must be signed by her physician. It is an order from that physician to hospital staff and emergency medical services professionals stating under what circumstances that they not perform medical intervention if your parent is dying. At any point if your parent is still “competent” your parent or his or her representative can revoke a DNR. The verbal wishes of a competent patient always supersede a DNR.
If an Alzheimer’s patient does not have a Durable Power Attorney named or does not have a Living Will it will often fall on the courts to determine who has the ability to make medical or financial decisions for that person. This is often a very time consuming process that can cause excessive delay in making important decisions. It is very important that family members make certain that Alzheimer’s patients put these documents in place while they still have the mental capacity to do so.