Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease? If not, there is a good chance that you will know someone afflicted with the disease during your lifetime. According to The Alzheimer’s Disease and Referral Center and The Alzheimer’s Association, at least 4.5 million persons in the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Most of those suffering from the affects of AD are over the age of 60. The disease affects approximately 3% of persons ages 65-74 and up to 50% of persons over the age of 85. The cause of AD is unknown and there is no known cure. Unfortunately, the disease is fatal and its effects are irreversible.

AD is one of the most common forms of dementia, a progressive condition marked by deteriorated cognitive functioning (forgetfulness, disorientation in time and place, inability to follow directions, inability to maintain personal hygiene or nutrition, and much more). Because AD affects a person’s ability to perform the activities of daily living (eating, bathing, ambulating, toileting, and dressing), complete 24-hour skilled nursing long-term care is eventually needed. Furthermore, because AD lasts from 3 to 20 years and it’s victims require special care, it significantly increases the already high costs of long-term care thereby causing enormous financial hardship in the lives of individuals and their families. In most cases, the financial costs of AD are simply too much for the vast majority of families to handle.

From an estate planning perspective, AD is particularly worrisome because it eventually renders the individual incapable of executing important legal documents. For this reason, if you or a friend or loved one have been diagnosed with AD, it is important to immediately plan for the future if possible (in the early stages of AD, you may still be capable of completing important legal documents) by putting into place or revising your will or trust, executing a general durable power of attorney and advance health care directives, and making sure that assets are properly titled and allocated. These documents will facilitate the orderly and desired distribution of your property, and will provide for the management of your property and health care at the time of your incapacity. Taking these steps will save you and your family time, trouble, and money, and will give you peace of mind going forward.

With the proper estate planning documents in place, individuals diagnosed with AD should likewise begin to plan for their continuing care throughout the stages of the disease without delay. Independent living, adult day care, home heath care, assisted living, and nursing home care options should be completely evaluated and nursing home care plans developed. An evaluation of the individual’s financial status and ability to provide for their own long-term health care is a necessity. The Medicaid rules (called Medical Assistance in Maryland) should be discussed in detail including strategies for asset protection and gifting where appropriate.

While the slowly progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease allows time for some individuals with an early diagnosis to plan for its inevitabilities, it matters not what stage of the disease your friend or loved may currently be going through. Planning and evaluating for future eventualities is the key to dealing with the disease. As knowledgeable elder law and estate planning attorneys, we assist individuals and their families in evaluating all of the issues and information surrounding Alzheimer’s and other diseases that cause disability and incapacity. We also advise families who may be dealing with the disease without the benefit of advanced planning about guardianship issues. We provide consultations and evaluations at facilities, your home, or our office.