5 Steps for Alzheimer's Caregivers

By Allan Vann, Huffington Post, October 26, 2015

Once a loved one receives an Alzheimer's disease (AD) diagnosis, there are five actions that should be taken as soon as possible. If important actions are taken while your loved one is still in early stages, these important decisions can be made together. The longer a caregiver waits to discuss these matters, the more likelihood that these decisions will rest solely with the caregiver because loved ones may be unable or unwilling to participate in these discussions and decisions.

1. Meet with an eldercare attorney. The first action should be to meet with an attorney who specializes in eldercare issues. The attorney will offer guidance, review, and/or prepare new necessary end of life documents...wills or trusts, living wills, health care proxies, and durable power of attorney. Discuss long term health care options with your attorney. If you and/or your loved one have long term health care policies, show them to your eldercare attorney and review the provisions together. If you don't already have such policies, discuss whether or not it may still be possible, or cost-effective, to apply for such policies now. You will also want an eldercare attorney to review your current financial situation to determine if assets in your loved one's name, or under joint or custodial ownership, should to be moved to your control.

2. Discuss long term care options. As your loved one with AD declines, there will be many decisions to make about long term care. Should you no longer be able to provide the necessary care by yourself, does your loved one prefer to have home health aides or companions and/or private nurses and stay at home? Would your loved one prefer to be in an assisted living facility or nursing home as opposed to having 24/7 aides and nurses caring in the home? No one can predict if an AD decline will progress slowly or quickly after diagnosis, so if not discussed previously then now is the time to have these discussions to insure your loved one's input on long term care options. If placement outside of the home in an assisted living facility is a possible option, consider visiting possible placement facilities sooner rather than later while your loved one can still provide input.

3. Meet with a certified financial advisor. Seek advice about preserving, protecting and growing current income, investments, and other assets both for yourself as caregiver and for your loved one. You and your financial advisor will also want to discuss long term health care policies, or how you plan to pay for long term care out of pocket, because those plans may significantly impact other financial decisions. These discussions will help you prepare more wisely for the future. And, just as with legal documents, it may be time to change names of beneficiaries or make other changes with various financial investments.

4. Educate yourself at responsible websites. One can go to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation to read an excellent description of the 7 Clinical Stages of Alzheimer's. Major hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, and major organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association and Alzheimer's Foundation of America, have a lot of helpful information about Alzheimer's. People diagnosed with AD, or caregivers looking for more information about what to expect as the disease worsens over time, can learn a wealth of information at these five sites.

5. Join a support group. Try to find a support group that meets weekly and solely for caregivers in your position as spouses, children, etc. Such restricted groups can focus better on issues you will face as your loved one declines. Weekly support groups, however, can be difficult to find. If you cannot find a group solely for similar caregivers, a mixed group is better than no group at all. If you cannot find groups meeting weekly, a group only meeting monthly is better than no group at all. A good support group can provide you emotional support, and you will learn many helpful suggestions from fellow caregivers who "get it" and understand what you are going through as an AD caregiver. Online support groups should also be checked out.

There is nothing a loved one or caregiver can do that will prevent the inevitable outcome after an Alzheimer's diagnosis. But acting quickly and responsibly to protect one's legal, financial, and emotional needs...while also learning as much as possible about Alzheimer's and long term care options...can help you cope better with what lies ahead.