Are you a middle-age child of an aging parent? If so, chances are good that you worry about your parents' health and monitor them closely for any signs of decline. Some conditions manifest clearly and are easily diagnosed.
However, dementia in the form of Alzheimer's or other memory-impairing disorders, is usually insidious. Its onset rarely comes overnight, but creeps into patients' lives in small, often-overlooked ways.
In the earliest stages of dementia, patients frequently realize that something is amiss and develop complex coping mechanisms to keep the effects at bay. It can be a shock to adult children to discover signs of dementia in their elderly parents.
Knowing when to step in takes finesse
It is difficult to know when to intervene and take legal action. A lot depends on the estate plans and long-term care arrangements that your parents already have in place. If they were proactive about these matters when they were still of sound mind, your job just got a lot easier. Ask to meet with both parents and their legal and financial advisor. Go over their estate plan documents and make sure that all are up-to-date and reflect their current needs.
Many married couples name each other as power of attorney for both medical and legal matters. But that isn't always prudent. If both are incapacitated in an accident or share diagnoses of dementia, the documents are essentially useless. Before their mental condition deteriorates further, POAs should be altered to name other individuals.
This is also a good time to evaluate your elderly parents' investment portfolio, assets and retirement funds. Will they have enough to live out their lives comfortably, or are they going to run short? Selling the family home or other substantial assets to pay for long-term care may be necessary.
Don't assume the conversation will go smoothly
People are funny about money, and parents can resent adult children stepping in to assist. They can perceive it as intrusive or unnecessary, insisting they are quite able to manage on their own. Be willing to concede some points. Mom and Dad may not be ready to move into an assisted living facility but might consider some part-time help with daily tasks. They may agree to let you or a sibling oversee their checking accounts and other finances. It may actually be a relief for them if they have been struggling to balance the books each month.
Be aware, though, that dementia can make some seniors ornery. If the meeting devolves into a shouting match, you may need to rethink your strategy.
Simplify their financial accounts and investment portfolios.
Eliminate complex portfolios with partnerships. Phase out intricate investments involving securities not traded publicly. Retool a hodgepodge of individual stocks that can overwhelm elderly parents. Your legal and financial advisors can recommend a more streamlined approach to financial security that your parents may better grasp at this juncture.
Take the team approach
Let your parents know that you and the estate planning attorney have their best interests at heart. Assure them you will seek a solution that's workable for all. Encourage them to get involved and offer their opinions, suggestions and preferences. The goal is to protect your parents and to preserve their assets to give them the highest possible level of care and comfort.