Greta Roemer Lewis, Estate and Estate Administration Attorney, Tuesley Hall Konopa, LLPMy dad has Alzheimer’s. He was a great communicator and planner. He had his estate plan in place years before his diagnosis. But we never really talked about how he would want to be cared for if he were to develop Alzheimer’s or a similar incapacitating illness or condition.

As an estate planner, I work with my clients to make sure they have the necessary legal documents in place in the event of their incapacity (such as health care and financial powers of attorney). While these are very important documents to have, they don’t get into details about what a person would like to have happen in specific scenarios.

When a family member or loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, we are particularly hesitant about discussing what might happen if their memory continues to decline. Maybe it’s because we are afraid of scaring them or hurting their feelings; they just won’t want to talk about it. Our loved one may be in denial (maybe we are too?). We avoid the topic, out of a desire to comfort and protect. Everyone is uncomfortable about discussing disease, disability, and death.

But it’s crucial for family members to know in advance, while their loved one is still “with it,” what they would like to have happen when they are not. Based in part on “The Conversation Project” (link below), here are some suggestions for starting a discussion with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia:

  • Have the conversation in “small bites” and keep it simple.
  • Look for opportunities when your loved one expresses anxiety or concern about their memory. Ask them to tell you more about their feelings/concerns. (Resist the urge to dismiss their concerns.)
  • Ask: What if somehow, at some point in the future, you did lose your memory due to Alzheimer’s or a similar condition? How would you want to live and be cared for? What would you really want? What is most important as you think about how you want to live at the end of your life? What do you value most?

If your loved one’s condition has already progressed to the point that he or she is unable to have such a conversation (and unable to make decisions about his/her own care), then it is up to the health care representative named under a health care power of attorney to make decisions as the disease progresses. In making such decisions, it is helpful for the family to come together to talk about what their loved one would want.

Talking about these issues is never easy. But it’s important to do so while you still can. Remember, it’s always too soon. Until it’s too late.

For more help with starting a conversation like this, go to “The Conversation Project”, a website with materials including guidelines for having conversations about end of life care. (Print)

Disclaimer: The THK Legal Blog is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. In no case does the published material constitute an exhaustive legal study, and applicability to a particular situation depends upon an investigation of specific facts. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.