We have all witnessed unexpected events upending the lives of our friends, colleagues and even our loved ones, but when you are sitting in the hot-seat, you wonder why you didn’t recognize the warning signals or even why you weren’t better prepared.
I have always been a planner. I recall the funny look my husband gave me when I wanted to talk about where we might live after the kids graduated from high-school when I was just 40 and our children were 3 and 8 years old. As I was watching my parents settle into retirement, I wanted us to start thinking about what our lives might look like and what we were working toward. I now recognize most people don’t do that, but that was how I was raised.
I come from planners. As the baby of the family, I knew my parent’s career and life plan because they would talk about it at the dinner table. I watched them live out their plans and as they started to slow down, knew my parents were doing what the estate lawyer, financial and insurance advisor suggested.
However, when mom began to repeat stories and my Dad became more subdued, I didn’t recognize the early warning signs of dementia. My mom began to tell me Dad was more forgetful, but I noticed more forgetfulness in my Mom and offered to take them to get some memory benchmarks. My Dad agreed, but my Mom always declined.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.” The Alzheimer’s Association offers a great resource called “Know the 10 Signs” that helps qualify the difference between forgetting a name or word and when it might be a sign of a more serious issue. I have the benefit of having two children at home and knowing they forget alleviates my panic over a senior moment vs an early warning sign of dementia.
When we began to see changes in behavior we knew something more serious was going on with their health. My Dad was the first to be diagnosed. I attended several medical appointments with my parents and watched as they scored in the high-20’s on the mini-mental exam or Folstein test, made up of 30-questions. It wasn’t until a neuro-psychological exam was administered that we were given a better understanding of what was happening with my parents.
I learned through the process that when it comes to dementia, those close will be the first to notice. By the time the medical team recognized that my Dad had Alzheimer’s and my Mom had Vascular Dementia, they were both into moderate stages of cognitive decline and even past the point that any medication was recommended to slow the progression of the disease.
When I needed use the Durable Power of Attorney to assist my parents, I realized that not only was it not always accepted (one financial services firm declined it because it was more than 2 years old and another because it was more than 5 years old), but there was a huge gap in the information I needed to be pay bills, be their medical advocate and manage their household that all the planning in the world didn’t provide.
Over the course of a year, I worked to collect and organize their documents, accounts, and assets. I used a binder so I could keep continue to add information as well as share it with my siblings when they came to town to give a break from caregiving. It was easy to hand-over and they could easily step in to help.
On June 16th, 2015 at the Transitions 2015, I will share how to better plan for the unexpected, cover the differences between forgetfulness and dementia as well as share my personal journey on how to manage as a caregiver.
Kay H. Bransford is the best-selling author of MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life and founder of the award-winning system to collect and product documents, accounts, and assets.