What to do When You Suspect a Loved One has Diminished Mental Capacity

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Teenager with depression sitting alone in dark room

Teenager with depression sitting alone in dark room

Perhaps it is a spouse or an aging parent, but in recent months you have started noticing ‘changes.’ Maybe it began with intermittent forgetfulness, or maybe you started noticing that he or she would ‘misremember’ events or names. In time, it has gotten much worse, but what can you do about it? When a person begins to lose the ability to recall basic information and starts to show signs of a change in mental capacity, it can be terrifying for loved ones. On one hand, you want to preserve the person’s autonomy and show him or her respect, but at the same time, there is a fear that the problems will get worse, leading to things like job loss, self-harm, or even worse.

 

Diminished Mental Capacity Rarely Improves

 If your loved one has developed a form of dementia, then you should first understand that the condition is not reversible. It is a degenerative condition that will ultimately get worse. However, there is hope. Depending on the type of mental impairment involved, research is being conducted and there are current medications and trial treatments that have promise. The Alzheimer’s Association has resources and information for those living with an affected individual.

 

Get the Diagnosis

 Many people are frightened to take a loved one to the doctor for an evaluation. The individual may also be reluctant because a diagnosis could mean limitations on freedom, like the loss of driving privileges. If you are an adult child of someone living with memory loss or other symptoms of dementia, talk to siblings, friends, and other family members. Build a group approach so that everyone approaches the situation with love. Ultimately, the earlier that you know the diagnosis, the sooner you can take steps to protect your loved one.

 

Take the Time to Understand the Disease

 Once you know the diagnosis, do your homework. Find out as much as you can about treatments, symptoms, and what to expect. If the disease has developed to a point where you and your family can no longer provide the level of care needed, you may be forced to seek placement in a healthcare setting, such as a memory unit of a skilled nursing facility. These painful decisions can be made even worse if no one in the family has the legal authority to sign documents and communicate with healthcare providers.

 

Do You Have the Necessary Legal Authority to Handle Affairs for Your Loved One?

 Hopefully, at some time before the person developed dementia, your loved one created documents like powers of attorney and a will. This is because once the disease progresses, the law will likely say he or she does not have the legal capacity to make such documents. Therefore, it is important to make these decisions while mental capacity is still present.

 

What if it is Too Late to Make Powers of Attorney?

 The law generally offers two routes for making decisions on someone else’s behalf. The first is private and fairly simple �’ the power of attorney. However, the loved one must be competent and know what he or she is signing. If that is no longer an option, the next step would be a conservatorship (for financial decisions) and guardianship (for health and personal decisions). These proceedings are court processes that declare the person mentally incompetent and appoint a qualified individual to make decisions on their behalf. These are, unfortunately, public proceedings that create public court documents. Likewise, it can cost a lot more than just getting a power of attorney drafted. However, in many cases it is necessary when no preparations were made.

 

Next Steps

 If you feel you may need appointment as a guardian or conservator over a loved one, based on dementia or some other mental impairment, you should contact a probate lawyer in Alabama right away. At Five Points Law Group, we work hard to understand our clients and help them obtain the court authority they need to make difficult but necessary decisions for their loved ones. For information or to get help with a guardianship case, call or visit us online today.

Burton Dunn
Burton Dunn
Burton currently advises clients on their probate law, elder law and estate planning needs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans’ Affairs, estate and trust litigation matters, mental health issues, guardianships/conservatorships, and adoptions.

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