Is Mom Just Forgetful Or Is This Dementia?

When Dad died last year, Mom insisted that she could still manage to live in the house alone. However, for the past few months, you’ve noticed that things haven’t been quite normal when you’ve visited. Last week Mom couldn’t find her purse, and you found it in the freezer. Also, lately Mom has seemed confused about seemingly routine events. Even though you drive her to church every Sunday, last week when you arrived Mom wasn’t ready for church and didn’t remember that it was Sunday. When she we were ready to leave church, Mom asked, “Are the people who brought me here going to take me home?” You and your brother are worried that Mom may have dementia, but your sister has pointed out that Mom has always been forgetful and doesn’t think that you need to worry. How can you be sure that it is still safe for Mom to live alone?
While some memory loss is normal as we age, frequent and noticeable forgetfulness could be a sign that your loved one suffers from dementia. Normal forgetfulness does not worsen with time, but dementia often becomes more pronounced and disabling as time goes by. While forgetting the name of someone you met last week is normal, forgetting that your children take you to church every week is not. Also, people with dementia often act illogically. A few years ago, Mom might have left her purse in a different room and forgotten where she left it – a sign of forgetfulness. This time, putting her purse in the freezer may have made perfect sense to Mom, but you know that it is an unusual behavior. Mom is no longer able to recognize that her behavior is abnormal because of the way in which dementia has affected her brain.
Caring for a parent or other older loved one can often be difficult and confusing. Because diseases like Alzheimer’s are so often a topic of discussion in today’s society, many caregivers panic at the first sign that their loved one could have dementia. If you suspect that someone you know has dementia, it is important to schedule an appointment with a doctor so that they can be assessed for mental impairment. Until then, being able to recognize the differences between dementia and relatively normal “senior moments” can help alleviate your concerns and can allow you to make better decisions about your loved one’s daily needs.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s: Is It Too Late For Mom Or Dad To Execute Legal Documents?

The question of competence has become a very big issue in the estate planning/elder law world over the past few years. As the population ages, and awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnoses grow, more and more adult children are questioning the ability of their elderly parents to make legal and financial decisions. Some children are unhappy with the choices their parents make; but most are simply concerned, and want to ensure their parents are not working in confusion against their own best interests, or being taken advantage of by others.

Estate planning attorneys must assess the competency of every client before they sign any documentation, and most attorneys can confidently make this assessment based on observation, experience, and instinct during the course of interaction; but every once in a while a situation arises that is not so clear, or a family member will express concern about the principal’s ability to understand and sign legal documents.

If you are worried about the competency of your loved one here are a few things to consider:

* Does he have the ability to articulate the reasoning behind a decision?

* Is his state of mind fairly stable, or do his moods and opinions change frequently and without cause?

* Does he appreciate the consequences of any given decision?

* Does he understand when a decision is irreversible?

* Does he recognize the substantive fairness of a transaction?

* Is his current decision-making consistent with his previous lifetime commitments?

In order to determine whether or not a person is competent to sign a will or trust, however, an assessment should be much more focused:

* Does the principal have a clear knowledge of his assets?

* Does he have a full knowledge of the persons to whom the estate is being left?

* Is he able to reasonably formulate and express a plan for the disposition of the estate?

The unfortunate truth about elderly illness is that competency in a person afflicted with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s or dementia can often change from day to day or even hour to hour. If there will be any question at all about the competency of the principal the safest thing to do is to express your concerns to your attorney, and have mental examination performed by a doctor. Of course the very best way to ensure mental competence is to create your estate plan early, before age or dementia becomes a factor.

Chesapeake Regional Medical Center Discontinues Geropsychiatric Services

Chesapeake Regional Medical Center recently announced that it is closing its geropsychiatric unit due to a change in federal Medicare funding. This unit treated adults 55 and older who suffered from mental disorders such as depression and dementia.  The geropsychiatric unit was unique because it provided treatment to patients with mental issues who also had medical problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia often require special medical attention because they can become confused and agitated in the unfamiliar hospital environment. With the unit’s closure on July 15, the hospital plans to treat older patients with mental disorders through specialized inpatient services, deciding how to proceed with each patient on case-by-case basis.
According to Kay Ashby, president of the Virginia Beach chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health, the unit’s closing will put pressure on the Hampton Roads community to care for seniors who are experiencing mental problems like Alzheimer’s disease. As the Baby Boomer population grows, so will the number of seniors needing this type of care. The closure of the unit in Chesapeake comes on the heels of other recent cutbacks – Eastern State Hospital, which treats mentally ill adults, has decreased its bed capacity by 40% in the past eight years. As more senior citizens require assistance with mental health issues, it may be a challenge to find adequate treatment. Because of these potential difficulties, it is important that you and your family have a plan in place in the event that you suffer from mental incapacity in the future.

Mom Was Just Diagnosed With Dementia. What Can I Do to Help Her?

Many seniors suffer from some type of dementia. However, no matter how common it is, when your parent is diagnosed with dementia, it can be shocking and scary for both you and your parent. According to the Aging Parents Authority, there are seven important strategies that can help you and your parent cope with the signs of early dementia.
1. Baby-proof the house
People with dementia can often become frustrated with their condition, causing them to lash out or become combative. For this reason, it is important to evaluate the safety of your parent’s living space as carefully as you would for a crawling baby. Remove all guns, kitchen knives, power tools, and other dangerous items from their reach. Tape down cords to make sure that your parent cannot trip over them. If your parent operates small appliances like an iron, make sure that it is equipped with an automatic shutoff feature in case it gets left on for an extended period of time.
2. Monitor driving closely
It’s not usually necessary to restrict your parent’s driving completely if they are in the early stages of dementia. However, if you notice unexplained dents or scratches on your parent’s car or if you or others begin to feel unsafe when riding in the car while your parent is driving, it may be time to request that the state require your parent to pass a driving test. If they do not pass, the fact that they lose access to their car will be because the state no longer allows them to, which can make you seem like less of a “bad guy” to your parent. However, it is important to remember that even if your parent does not have a license, they could still try to drive if they have access to their car keys. In order to make your parent feel like they still have control, you may want to consider giving them a set of car keys that do not work in any of the cars in the home. This allows them to have a set of keys to hold without actually being able to drive away.
3. Supervise all medications
Dementia patients often forget to take medications or forget that they have already taken them, leading them to take them twice. Depending on the medication, misuse of the drug could cause your parent to be hospitalized, which could confuse your parent and lead to a worsening of her dementia. For these reasons, it is important to check on your parent daily to make sure that they are taking their medications properly.
4. Give your parent a pleasant living area
People in the early stages of dementia need clean, cheerful surroundings with plenty of stimulation. Having your parent stay in a dark room with a lack of light can actually allow their condition to worsen.
5. Have your parent exercise regularly
When people are diagnosed with dementia, they often stop doing some of the things that helped them to remain active before the diagnosis. This can cause your parents’ muscles to weaken, leaving them prone to falls, which could lead to hospital visits that worsen their confusion. For these reasons, it is important to make sure that your parent goes on walks or does other physical activities to help him remain active.
6. Keep your parent mentally active for as long as possible
Just as your parent’s physical condition can worsen without exercise, their mental condition will deteriorate more quickly if they do not remain mentally active. Make sure your parent does things like reading, working puzzles, and playing games for as long as they are able. However, be sure not to introduce too many new activities to your parent, as this can confuse and frustrate them.
7. Take care of yourself
If you are physically or mentally exhausted, it is impossible to be helpful to your parent. If their care is becoming too much for you to handle, consider arranging in-home care or adult day care services for your parent. As your parent’s dementia progresses, it is important to build a support system of people who will be able to help you care for your parent.
Because dementia is often a degenerative disease that worsens with time, it is important to consult with an experienced elder law attorney to ensure that your parent’s estate plan is in place in case they become incapacitated. For more information about resources for dealing with dementia, visit

A Common Sleeping Disorder Could Increase the Risk of Dementia in Women

According to the August 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, elderly women who suffer from sleep apnea have 85 percent higher odds of developing dementia over the next five years. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder characterized by several instances of abnormal pauses in breathing and loud snoring during sleep. In order to be diagnosed with sleep apnea, a person must suffer 15 or more episodes of sleep apnea in a one-hour period. According to Dr. Susan Redline, repeated oxygen deprivation during sleep can affect the way in which the brain reproduces brain cells.
This study is a cause for concern because sleep-disordered breathing affects up to 60 percent of elderly people. If there is a correlation between sleep apnea and cognitive impairment, sleep apnea could turn into a major public health issue. However, it is unclear whether treating sleep-disorder breathing could actually reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life. According to Dr. Redline, while some studies have shown that several months of sleep apnea therapy can improve brain function, more complex studies still need to be done because researchers are not sure if sleep apnea leads to dementia or if dementia leads to sleep apnea.
If you or a loved one suffers from the symptoms of sleep apnea, it is important to contact your doctor immediately so you can discuss treatment options.