Where do I start: getting legal matters in order or getting a diagnosis for my mother?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 27, 2016
The cure asked...

Where do I start: getting legal matters in order (nothing in place yet) or getting a diagnosis for my 86 year old Mom? My daughter has been telling me "Mom, you have to do something about Grandma and Grandpa's affairs". After spending the 4th of July (Mom's 86th birthday) at a Residence Inn (with twenty-two people, two meals, fireworks and lot's of fun family stuff to do for 20 hours), I now see the light. I could not agree with my daughter more. I had no idea our mom was this bad. Maybe her symptoms were worse because she was in an unfamiliar place. She continually perserverated on: "Where's my purse"?, "Where's Carolyn & Charity (her daughter and granddaughter and our motel roommates in our two bedroom/two bath unit with full kitchen, dining and living room)"?, "Where's the bathroom"?, "Where's my room, I can't find my room"?, etc. Mom was the keeper of all the family information, birthdays, ages, anniversaries, who belonged to whom. That's all gone now. The clincher was when at 3 AM my grandson knocked at my motel room door standing there with my mom. She had to go to the bathroom so went two flights down to a bathroom that she had used near the lobby when we were having the evening meal. Of course, she had used our bathroom in our motel room from Noon till bed-time, but somehow didn't remember we had bathrooms. Worst of all, she was in a paper thin see-through night gown with "NO" undergarments. She was lost, confused, and scared when Josh brought her to the door. I shutter to think what may have been the outcome if she hadn't run into her great grandson in the stairwell romancing his girlfriend.

My best friend and I decided (similar situations) we were grieving the loss of our living mothers as our best friends. They have mutated into whole different creatures like aliens. I don't mean this to be disrespectful as we both love our mothers dearly. Additionally, we both have (delightful, thoughtful, caring) severally mentally retarded adult children that require 24/7/365 care. This may be one of my excuses for dragging my feet with a pretty full plate already. Additionally, my sister takes advantage of them financially and more so as our mom has become an easy target for forgetting how many checks she has given her. They will insist on helping her till whichever comes first......they die or run out of money. I'm fearful the latter will be the case at a time when they need their money most for Alzheimer's care.

After seeing what we all just witnessed, I must stop putting this off. Again, which first.......legal or diagnosis? Input please.

The Cure

Expert Answers

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

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You definitely need to act right away, starting with getting the paperwork in order. You may want to talk to an elder attorney. Whoever is the primary caregiver of your mother needs to be her legal proxy for healthcare, to be able to act on her behalf. You'll need to establish both a Durable Power of Attorney for her and a POA for Healthcare, both of them to be effective immediately. She likely still has lucid moments, which is important, because she has to be of sound mind to signs the POA documents. As the attorney will likely explain to you, she can have pretty serious dementia and still grasp the meaning of these documents. However, once she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia, these documents are susceptible to challenges. So, legal first! (You should have POAs in place for yourselves as well.)

Your mother is of a generation that grew up in a trusting world, which makes her an easy target for con artists and identity thieves. People in her position have given away tens of thousands of dollars to scammers, who were "such nice people." She's likely past the point of understanding this risk. Many people at her stage are also susceptible to offers of "good deals and steals" promoted by catalogs and cable shopping channels.

The extreme confusion your mother experienced on this trip is a good indicator that she needs help with decision-making, especially when it comes to her money. Long-term care for Alzheimer's and dementia can easily eat up all your mother's assets. Hopefully your sister will understand that your family must preserve and protect your mother's holdings for her future care.