What to Do When a Loved One is Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

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Alzheimer’s disease is ever-present in the United States today. Some 137 million adults in the U.S. know or have known someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, according to a new Caring.com study. The finding is based on a telephone survey conducted in October by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI).

What’s more, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. And oftentimes, these caregivers find themselves unprepared for what comes after an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis.

I became one of those caregivers after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about four years ago.

Your entire world comes to an eerie halt when you hear the words, “Your (loved one here) has Alzheimer’s.” No matter how well-read or well-traveled you are, I can almost guarantee you will be at a complete loss on what to do or where to start. The amount of information out there is overwhelming but there was no clear, simple guide that I could find. I didn’t have time to wade through that much when Mom was diagnosed — I needed to know what to do NOW.

From personal experience, here are the first five things you need to do:

If you have not already done so, make an appointment with a neurologist and make a plan for meds and treatment.

Meet with an elder care attorney and get all your legal and financial affairs in order. Make sure it is an attorney who specializes in elder care. Have them also start the process for the VA Aid & Attendance Benefit, which can be a long, long process.

Social Security does not recognize a Power of Attorney. You need to take your loved one to a local office or work with the above mentioned attorney to get yourself made the point of contact for your loved one. You can also attempt to do it on the phone — that one is a hit or miss.

Become a co-signer or co-owner on all financial accounts. Many banks and financial institutions will no longer recognize a Power of Attorney. And don’t try to hide money. If you apply for Medicaid help later, they will research five years of financial records to determine your eligibility.

Talk to your loved one about their future care. At some point, you will probably not be able to do this alone. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, a patient must be supervised closely 24/7.

After I lost Mom, I put together a list of questions every loved one should have the answers to — for everyone — not just in the case of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Take these questions, fill out all the answers, and wrap it up as a holiday gift later this year. I promise it is the best gift you can give your family.

More Resources for Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregivers:

Dayna Steele is Caring.com's Chief Caring Expert and the author of Surviving Alzheimer's with Friends, Facebook, and a Really Big Glass of Wine.