Alzheimer’s Statistics and Early Symptoms

Vol. 2 Issue 9

By

Kerry R. Peck is the managing partner of the Chicago law firm Peck Ritchey, LLC where he concentrates his practice in Trust and Estate Litigation, Estate Planning/Administration, Guardianship and Fiduciary Litigation, and Elder Law. Mr. Peck is past president of the 22,000-lawyer Chicago Bar Association; is currently a member of the ABA'sCommission on Law and Aging and the Elder Law Section Council of the Illinois Bar Association. Kerry is the principal author of the book "Alzheimer's and the Law," published by the ABA, and is a frequent speaker at continuing education seminars for attorneys and healthcare professionals. 

Kerry Peck and Diana Law will be featured expert speakers at a panel on Alzheimer's and the law on Wednesday, November 17, at the Annual Delaware Dementia Conference. Register online.

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Association, is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life, and Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. In the forward to the book, Alzheimer's and the Law, Scott Turow wrote that, "Alzheimer's disease is one of the scourges of our time, and one whose toll on the country will only deepen with the aging of the Baby Boomers and the inevitability of increased life spans. Curing Alzheimer's would probably do more than any single step to reduce health care expenses and—far more important—improve the quality of life of the elderly here and around the world."

Alzheimer's by the Numbers

Alzheimer's disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States,according to the Alzheimer's Association, and currently over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Association also states that every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's.

What are the Signs of Alzheimer's?

There are ten warning signs and symptoms of the disease that the Alzheimer's Association wants people to recognize. Note that some of these signs on the surface may appear to be just simple signs of aging; however, each item will compare a normal sign of aging as a point of comparison.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. A normal sign of aging would be occasionally forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. A typical age related change would be making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure. A normal sign of aging would be occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
  4. Confusion with time or place. A typical age-related change would be getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. A regular age-related change could be vision changes related to cataracts.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. A normal sign of aging could be having difficulty finding the right words to use in a certain situation.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A typical age-related change would be misplacing things from time to time and being able to retrace the steps to find them.
  8. Decreased or poor judgement. A regular age-related change would be making a mistake or a bad decision every once in a while.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. A normal sign of aging would be occasionally feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
  10. Changes in mood and personality. A regular age-related change could be developing a very specific way of doing things, and becoming irritable when that routine is disrupted.

The Alzheimer's Association suggests that if you see any of these signs in yourself or a loved one, you should not ignore them, but plan a doctor's visit. Early detection of Alzheimer's is key to maximizing treatment options. So while there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's or stop it from progressing, medication may be able to help lessen symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion, for a limited time.

What do you do after an Alzheimer's Diagnosis?

After a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, or dementia in general, it is important to begin planning for their future. The individual diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease should be assured that their intentions are properly documented.  In order to execute any legal documents, the client needs to demonstrate that they have the mental capacity to sign such documents.  Any delay in acting could mean that client loses their ability to execute critical estate planning documents. 

The law decides whether an individual had sufficient capacity to engage in a particular action, and it is that particular action that determines the level of legal capacity required. Capacity is not an all-or-nothing concept; it runs along a continuum and can vary according to time of day, the task presented, life stressors, medication and other pressures.

The two general levels of legal capacity required for execution of estate planning documents are testamentary capacity and contractual capacity. The law does not focus on an individual's age, physical, or mental condition, but rather on the individual's decision-making abilities. The standard for contractual capacity differs from that of testamentary capacity.  Testamentary capacity only requires that in a moment of time (time of execution) the individual had the ability to understand the consequences of his/her decision concerning the disposition of his/her property at death.

With diseases that affect memory, it is important that your loved one is given time to decide how they want their affairs handled. It is equally important to ensure that the necessary steps are taken to document their intentions before they become cognitively impaired.  Today, attorneys will be asked on a more frequent basis to assist in the assessment of their client's mental capacity. Have a plan to avoid problems for yourself!

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