Once a diagnosis of dementia has been received, families need to immediately begin advance care planning, as explained in a recent article titled “Can Someone With Dementia Sign Legal Documents” from Health News. Depending on their medical condition, some patients with dementia, particularly in early stages, may be capable of making their own decisions regarding legal decisions. However, discussions must begin early, so the person can be involved and understand the planning process.
When family members don’t know the wishes of their loved ones, they are more likely to experience distress and difficulties in making decisions. Families report feelings of guilt, self-doubt and stress while making advance care decisions with no input from their loved ones.
Laws concerning advance care vary from state to state. An elder law attorney can help older adults interpret state laws, plan how their wishes will be carried out and understand financial options.
Advance care planning focuses on both long-term care and planning for funeral arrangements. These documents typically include a durable power of attorney for healthcare, a living will and Do-Not Resuscitate orders, often called a DNR. Depending on state law, there may also be a MOLST document, short for Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.
The durable power of attorney for healthcare names another person who can serve as a proxy for the person with dementia, if and when the person is not able to make informed healthcare decisions for themselves.
A living will states a person’s wishes for end-of-life treatment. This documents their views about specific medical procedures including but not limited to dialysis, tube feeding or blood transfusions. If the person should become unconscious, then families may make treatment decisions based on what their loved one wanted.
A Do-Not-Resuscitate order is placed in a patient’s medical chart if the person does not want to receive CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if their heart stops or breathing ceases. This must be signed by a doctor before it is placed in the chart.
Planning for a funeral is a difficult task. However, it will alleviate stress and possible guilt in the future. People with dementia can tell their loved ones in advance what they want regarding a funeral or memorial service, burial, or cremation. If any arrangements are already in place, such as the purchase of a burial plot, providing details to family members will make it easier to manage.
Advance care planning can be a sensitive topic but seeking legal advice early on is useful so the family can focus on making sure their loved one has the care they want. Involving the person with dementia in the process is respectful. An elder lawyer attorney will be able to guide the family to ensure planning is done properly.
Reference: Health News (Jan. 11, 2023) “Can Someone With Dementia Sign Legal Documents”
Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Dementia, Advance Care, Funeral, Do-Not-Resuscitate, DNR, Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, MOLST, CPR, Durable Power of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, End of Life, Long-Term Care
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