An online search for “Alzheimer’s Disease” yields countless articles: New reports appear daily about recently discovered biomarkers, diagnostic tests, possible treatments, new medications, the latest research into potential cures. We are learning more all the time. But despite research efforts, we have yet to find the holy grail: a way to prevent or cure this increasingly prevalent disease.
More cases as our population ages
How prevalent? If you are over 65 you have a one in nine chance of having the disease, according to The Alzheimer’s Association’s 2016 Facts and Figures report. If you are lucky enough to live to age 85, your chances increase to one in three. Alzheimer’s is the cause of 60% to 80% of all cases of dementia, and women are significantly more likely to be afflicted. If things keep going as they have, the nationwide incidence will triple by 2050. In Florida alone, the number of residents with Alzheimer’s is expected to increase 41% by the year 2025.
The 2016 report also presents revealing data about the toll the disease takes on caregivers. There are currently 16 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. who are affected economically, emotionally and physically by a loved one’s Alzheimer’s Disease. The costs of care, the report concludes, “…can make it more difficult for individuals and families to maintain their own health and financial security.”
You can’t prevent, but you can prepare
While it’s widely believed that maintaining a healthy lifestyle has some preventive value, there is no way to guarantee that you will remain untouched by Alzheimer’s. There are, however, steps you can take that can ease the toll a diagnosis would take on your family. Assessing how your family can shoulder the staggering cost of long-term care, if it becomes necessary in the future, should always be part of your estate and life planning. An experienced Florida Bar Certified Elder Law Attorney can assist you.
Your attorney can also help you put in place legal documents that will smooth the road and make the transition easier for family members in the event of your incapacity. A Durable Power of Attorney for Property will allow someone to handle your financial affairs. A Health Care Surrogate will authorize someone else to make your health-related decisions if you cannot do so. All these plans should be made well in advance. But even if you have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, so long as your mental capacity remains, you can execute these important documents. Don’t delay too long, though: the progress of the disease is unpredictable and, once incapacity occurs, the only recourse may be a court-ordered guardianship. That’s a trying and expensive process you and your family will want to avoid.
Perhaps in the near future, I will no longer need to advise clients about how to deal with the legal and financial ramifications of Alzheimer’s Disease, because it will no longer exist. That is my hope. I’m sure it’s yours, too.