Dementia and, in particular Alzheimer’s Disease, get a lot of attention in the media. So much so, that when an elderly loved one starts to exhibit memory loss, dementia is the first thing that occurs to family members and close friends. This can be a misleading and dangerous thing to assume for many reasons. First, no one should be casually diagnosed with a medical condition without professional input. Second, it’s unfair to a person to be categorized with a condition when no such professional diagnosis has been made.
Important Differences Between Dementia and Age-Related Memory Loss
There are distinguishable differences between dementia and simple age-related memory loss that need to be understood. Dementia is a physical symptom of a physical condition. Alzheimer’s is just one disease that has dementia as its most prevalent symptom. Dementia is a disabling condition that progresses and worsens over time, often to the point where a person forgets who they are or who their family members are.
Age-related memory loss is something that happens to almost everyone over a long enough period of time. It is typically minor and not debilitating. People with age-related memory loss may repeat themselves, or forget why they came into a room, but they can usually still take care of themselves and recall earlier life events.
Dangers of Casually Diagnosing a Person With Dementia
When a person is casually diagnosed with dementia without having received a professional diagnosis, all sorts of estate planning problems can occur. The first one is the assumption that the person is not able to make sound choices about their estate. Later on, once the estate plan has been documented and executed, the person may balk at certain aspects that don’t align with their true wishes. Not only does this lead to family discord, but it also necessitates beginning the entire legal process over again, which is timely and costly.
Why a Professional Diagnosis is Essential
Establishing diminished mental ability is essential before a family member or anyone else can legally make decisions on behalf of someone else. In most cases, a court order is also needed. There is a great deal of grey area around estate planning for those with dementia, and that grey area is even bigger if a person attempts it without first having a professional diagnosis. If the professional diagnosis comes back with unexpected results, the plan could be negated. If the diagnosis affirms the suspected dementia, then the estate plan needs to be organized in such a way as to accommodate the expected increased needs of the dementia patient. Either way, it’s not just prudent to get the professional diagnosis first; it’s essential.
The very fact that family members are concerned about a loved one’s mental state is often a good sign that they have that person’s welfare in the right perspective. Working with an established elder law attorney in New Hampshire can help to ensure that the loved one’s estate is properly planned. Contact Beasley & Ferber today for more information.