Once a person has been diagnosed with a cognitive illness like Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it’s important to take steps to plan ahead for their present and future care.
“Memory care planning isn’t something that should be kicked down the road,” says Erica Labb, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford. “If someone is diagnosed with dementia in the early stages of the disease, it makes the process a lot smoother since the individual will be able to participate in the planning as much as possible. However, that isn’t always the case. In a situation where the individual is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the middle stage of the disease, family members and caregivers will need to shoulder the bulk of the decision-making.”
Erica says that although it’s not enjoyable to think about, it’s a good idea for most people – especially those who may have illness like dementia that run their family – to thoughtfully consider “what if” situations. “Most people would prefer to not think about end-of-life planning, but even if you’re a thoroughly healthy individual, it’s important to understand that, yes, all of us will face this in some way, shape or form.”
Planning ahead, especially when it comes to memory care, will help family members, friends and the individual themself feel more comfortable and secure about what lies ahead. “For the person with dementia, advance planning gives them the opportunity to state their wishes and feel reassured they will be followed,” she explains. “Family members, caregivers and friends will feel a lot more secure when it comes time to put plans into place because they know what they’re doing aligns with the person’s explicit requests.”
Memory Care Planning Steps
If someone you love has been diagnosed with dementia, you may feel adrift and unsure about what to do. Here are some steps you can take to help your loved one put life in place and organize their current and future care needs in order to ensure the best possible quality of life.
1. Get an official diagnosis as early as possible.
If an official diagnosis hasn’t been made yet, it’s important to make sure this happens. Why? Because memory issues may or may not be something related to dementia. Many seniors and their loved ones fear a dementia diagnosis, so when they begin struggling with memory issues and having “senior moments,” they may want to sweep it under the rug and ignore it in the hopes that it goes away. However, memory issues could be caused by something completely different – and perhaps something that can be managed. Even if the diagnosis is dementia, it’s better to know sooner rather than later because the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better care your loved one will receive – and the more time you have to make plans.
2. Get educated.
Knowledge is power, and that’s definitely the case with dementia. Everyone who is touched by the diagnosis should take steps to learn as much as possible about the disease, how to help manage it, what the progress will be and what will be needed in the future. In the past, dementia has been a very misunderstood disease, which naturally causes fear and confusion. Understanding what’s ahead can actually help you and your loved ones feel more confident about the future. While it’s scary to think about your loved one losing their memories and abilities, knowing about the disease will help provide the best possible quality of life for the individual with dementia. Becoming an expert quickly will help family members and caregivers learn how to properly care for their loved one and even be their advocate. It will also help everyone better make decisions moving forward, such as when and where to move their loved one when the disease reaches a certain point.
3. Join a support group.
Did you know that family members are considered to be the secondary victims of dementia? Although there’s one individual who is actually diagnosed with the disease, dementia is an all-encompassing situation that touches the lives of everyone in the family. Family members, especially primary caregivers, are the ones who will eventually take over everything from finances to healthcare to the tasks of daily life. This can be stressful and very lonely. Joining a support group will help you and your loved ones find a place to gain advice and support and meet others going through similar situations as yourselves. Whether the groups are online or in person, it can be a relief to be among other people who understand exactly what you’re going through and where you won’t feel judged.
4. Make financial and legal plans.
As early as possible, talk with a financial advisor and an elder law attorney to discuss financial options and put legal paperwork together. First and foremost, the individual with dementia will need to designate powers of attorney for financial and healthcare decisions. Then, certain legal documents should be drawn up, like a living will, a last will and testament and other documents. This is a good time to discuss end-of-life plans (for example, does your loved one want a DNR?), including funeral arrangements. At the same time, it’s essential to get a picture of your loved one’s finances to determine how care will be paid for moving forward. A good financial advisor can help you navigate the red tape that comes with certain forms of assistance, like long-term care insurance, Medicare or Medicaid and Veteran’s benefits.
Your advisor can also help point you towards community organizations that may be able to provide assistance on a low- or no-cost basis. Contact your community chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the local Area Agency on Aging to find out what resources are available in your area. Another option is to connect with a social worker who deals with eldercare.
5. Make a caregiving plan.
Dementia is a progressive disease, and even though the person with dementia may still be relatively healthy and able to do many things on their own, they will need increasing amounts of help. Often, a family member becomes a full-time caregiver in order to meet their loved one’s needs. People who will be involved in daily care (and those who will be involved in an ancillary way) should sit down and make a plan with their loved one to determine care moving forward. Can your loved one still live alone, for example, and when should someone move in full-time to care for them? Who will manage day-to-day activities and who can help with other aspects of life? At the same time, you should think about when and where to move a loved one when memory loss has progressed to a certain point.
“Although it’s hard to think about, moving your loved one to a memory care assisted living community can provide the very best possible quality of life for them – and you,” explains Erica. “These types of communities are specifically designed to meet the needs of individuals with dementia, and they are staffed with professionals who provide around-the-clock care. They can be a great boon to families and individuals throughout the disease, and can also help you maintain and nurture your existing relationship with your loved one with dementia.”
Comprehensive Memory Care
Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford delivers highly specialized memory care assisted living for those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Our resident-centered approach focuses on providing dignity, purpose and moments of joy in daily life for those in all stages of the disease. We offer a wellness-focused lifestyle that centers around a resident’s current skills and abilities, not those that have been lost to dementia.
Our team members take an active role in getting to know each resident on a personal level to deliver programming that is meaningful to them. We account for the preferences, interests, needs and abilities of our residents to connect with them and encourage their involvement in daily life and boost self-esteem.
Warm, Residential Atmosphere
Featuring a stunning residential design, every inch of our community has been designed to benefit those with memory loss. Attributes such as soft colors, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life stations create a soothing and secure environment where residents feel comfortable, safe and at home.
Bridges® by EPOCH is New England’s largest stand-alone memory care assisted living provider.
Contact us today to learn more.