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The Layperson’s Guide to Revocable Living Trusts, Guardianships, and Conservatorships

Contingency Planning End of Life Planning Elderly Parents and ChildrenWhen our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease reach the part of the journey through these neurological diseases where they are unable to handle their own financial and legal matters, we as caregivers have no option but to step in and act for them and in their best interests.

Here in the United States, there is an incomprehensible aversion to planning for the possibility of having to entrust our lives to someone else and for how we want to die

It’s as though we have this national collective mentality that if we don’t think about it, then it won’t happen.

The bad news? No matter what, it’s still going to happen.

And someone is going to be left holding the bag – maybe the person we would have designated or maybe someone we don’t want making decisions for us – to decide for us.

If it’s a person we trust, then they have the agony of trying to figure out what’s best and what we would have wanted. This is especially agonizing when dealing with end-of-life issues.

Too many people in this position of not knowing what we want, because we refused to talk about it, prolong our suffering and run up needless bills in the process, simply delaying what would have been the inevitable outcome anyway.

If it’s a person we don’t trust, all bets are off. And it is not going to be pretty.

The time to prepare for both of these inevitables – unless we die early and truly unexpectedly (I can’t help but laugh every time I see an obituary for a really elderly person that says they died unexpectedly: suddenly, perhaps; unexpectedly, no) – is when we have the ability to and can make sure what we want to happen happens.

A Revocable Living Trust is A Good Option for Ensuring Elderly and End-of-Life NeedsFrom the standpoint of appointing someone we trust to handle our financial and legal affairs (most of us do an okay job with medical powers of attorney, but even that gets ignored more than it should), a revocable living trust is probably the best and safest way to go.

The benefits of a revocable living trust are:

  • The person creating it retains control and can revoke control at any time as long as they are competent;
  • It can be set up with a small amount of money or a piece of property in the trust and the attorney’s fee (varies by state);
  • The person creating it designates the person/people they trust to handle their legal/financial affairs;
  • It eliminates the need for a will;
  • It cannot be legally contested;
  • The process of transferring control to the designated trustee in the case of incompetency requires a professional (psychiatric) letter with the diagnosis and evidence of incompetency;
  • It, with the professional letter declaring incompetency, is the only documentation needed for the designated trustee to handle finances and legal matters.

A revocable living trust is probably the easiest way to ensure what we want both in life if we can’t do it ourselves and in death after we’re gone.

However, it is of supreme importance to choose wisely and be absolutely convinced of the trustworthiness of the person we designate to be our trustee.

The bottom line? If we have any doubts as to whether we can trust someone completely, we do not choose them as our trustee.

It will not end well for us – in fact, it could end gruesomely and tragically – and all our careful planning will have been for nothing, to put it mildly.

But what if, as many Americans do, our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease reach the stage where they are not competent to handle their affairs without any legal documents in place?

There are two options, and by the time this is needed, it’s likely that the petitioner (us for our loved ones or our families for us) will need both of them granted.

Both options are very costly (much more expensive than the cost of powers of attorney and a revocable living trust), often take a long time to be granted, and, in many cases, set off a family war, which not only can delay a decision, but can also create irreparable rifts within the family.

One option is guardianship. Guardianships give the petitioner the legal authority to take physical care of the loved one who is incapacitated.

The process to obtaining guardianship begins with getting a professional letter confirming the person for whom guardianship is sought is incompetent to handle their own affairs.

That letter must be taken to an attorney to have a petition drawn up to submit with the letter to the court. The petitioner is responsible for all the attorney fees (general estimates are in the $2500 to $4000 range if the petition is uncontested) and court costs.

Petitioning for legal guardianship and conservatorship is a lengthy and costly processThe court will decide – slowly – whether to grant the guardianship and the entire process can take several months at the very least.

The second option is a conservatorship. A conservatorship gives the petitioner the legal authority to handle financial and estate matters for of the loved one who is incapacitated.

A conservatorship has the same legal requirements and process as a guardianship and has the same potential problems as well. That’s why if a petitioner has no other choice but to pursue these options, it’s prudent to do both of them at the same time.

There is an additional requirement for the petitioner who is granted a conservatorship for a loved one who is incapacitated. The petitioner will have to file a detailed annual financial report for the estate to the court for review to ensure that the estate is being managed as the court sees fit.

If the petitions for guardianship and conservatorship are uncontested, they will take a much longer time and much, much more money to obtain than having an attorney draw up a revocable living trust that settles everything.

If the guardianship and conservatorship petitions are contested by other family members, it’s conceivable that the legal fight could outlast the loved one who is incapacitated and the amount of money spent to fund the fight would be outrageously high.

We may have no choice in these matters with our loved ones that we are caregivers for, but I urge each of us to consider taking care of these things for ourselves now for our potential caregivers.

We need to tell our families what we want, carewise, for longterm care and at the end of our lives. We need to choose and discuss with the person we want to ensure that our wishes are carried out. We need to get the legal paperwork done and keep one copy in our home safe or a safety deposit box at the bank and give the other copy to the person we designate to carry out our wishes.

We never know when time and chance are going to happen. Today is the day to prepare for that. Tomorrow may be too late.

 

 

United States Hospice Agency Report Card 2015

In “The Layperson’s Guide to Hospice Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease,” I gave a comprehensive discussion about how to choose and what to look for in hospice agencies when the time comes that our loved hospice report card united states 2015ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease need comfort care and gentle and compassionate assistance with the dying process.

The Huffington Post, on January 8, 2015, had this article, which includes interactive maps for each state in the United States where state inspection data was available, giving detailed report card information for American hospice agencies. 

Here Are the Hospices That Break the Most Rules” is a must-read.

Do You Know And Have You Prepared What You Need To Ensure That You And Your Affairs Will Be Well-Taken Care Of When You Need Help?

financial legal medical documents power of attorney going gentle into that good nightEvery few months, I write a post on the immediate need for everyone – no matter what their age, their health, or their life circumstances – to know and understand the vital information that needs to documented (and executed in terms of legal documents) and communicated to their designee when they are unable, either temporarily or permanently, to take care of their own affairs.

This includes digital access (email accounts, online bank accounts, retail accounts, etc.) documentation as well as legal, medical, and financial documents everyone needs to have in place when we need help or can’t take care of our own affairs in this area.

I am extremely puzzled by the fact those most people put this off and avoid thinking about it or doing it. It’s illogical and it is really cruel to those whose laps it ends up in.

I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about a family member – especially parents of grown children – being incapacitated with life and death in the balance and because nobody ever talked about this contingency and no documents – living wills and/or DNRs – exist, there’s no clear decision-maker and the ability to let go (taking off life support when there’s no chance of recovery) is long, hard, and gut-wrenching on the family.

And the one who didn’t take the time to spell out their wishes suffers terribly and needlessly, not to get better, but essentially just to run up a meaningless huge debt that will decimate their estate and perhaps ruin the financial health of those they leave behind. 

None of is guaranteed our next breath, a healthy life with no life-changing accidents and diseases, nor a healthy mind for as long as we live. Things could literally change 180% for any of us and our families and loved ones while we’re reading this sentence. Yet, of all the things it seems that we humans deceive ourselves about, this seems to be the top “It won’t happen to me.”

But the reality is that it will.

If not sooner, then later.

And the most selfish and irresponsible thing that we can do to our families and our loved ones is to not be prepared ourselves and to not ensure that we have designated and prepared the decision-makers we choose in advance.

This is one of the greatest acts of love and one of the biggest blessings we can do for and give to those closest to us and whom we love the most.

to be prepared is half the victoryAll of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

With the precipitous rise in dementias overall, which may be in part related to a more toxic planet, more toxic water, and more toxic food, and the burgeoning number of lifestyle-related dementias that are emerging, the odds are not in our favor that every single one of us, in time, will not suffer from some sort of neurological degeneration. 

Who is going to help us when this happens?

And even if you or I are the exception to the rule, we’re still going to die. Everybody dies.

You can ignore it, you can deny it, you can live in some fantasy world where you refuse to think about it ever, but it doesn’t change the reality that it will happen to you and me.

I believe most of us assume that death will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I review and update, if necessary, both of those when my circumstances change or 12 months have passed. I have a signed and notarized DNR.

I have complete documentation on my digital footprint, as well as other financial, medical, insurance, property, and notification (for death) documentation that I keep updated as well.

I have detailed instructions regarding my funeral service and my burial.

Do you?

If not, why not?

What are you going to do about?

When are you going to do something about it?

What if tomorrow never comes?

The Layperson’s Guide to Hospice Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

hospice care for our loved ones with dementias and alzheimer's diseaseThis is the last installment in a series that Going Gentle Into That Good Night has presented to discuss, in clear, practical, and informative language, the on-going health care options in the home that are available for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In the first post, “The Layperson’s Guide to Home Health Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease,” we discussed the home health care option.

In the second post, “The Layperson’s Guide to Palliative Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease,” we discussed the relatively-unknown and highly-underutilized option of palliative care, which all caregivers at home should have in place for their loved ones in the long journey between acute health crises and death.

In this post, we will discuss the hospice care option. I will talk about the requirements to be admitted to hospice care and what it means for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease in terms of the kind of care they can receive.

I will also discuss how hospice care works in a home setting (there is a hospital hospice option, but we will not discuss that in this post which is geared toward caregiving for our loved ones at home).

I will also walk you through the end-of-life process and how hospice is designed to support our loved ones and provide assistance to caregivers in the immediate aftermath of the death of our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

And, finally, I will frankly and honestly talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly that the hospice experience can be and I will provide you guidance on how to handle that at a time when mentally and emotionally this can be the toughest decision we make in caring for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Hospice care, in general, is available to our loved ones only when they are in the terminal (six months or less until death) stage of an illness.

The difference between hospice care and home health or palliative care is that while home health and palliative care are curative (treatment to stabilize and/or improve to extend life), hospice care is comfort (treatment to provide physical comfort while the terminal disease takes its natural course to death without intervention).

The requirements for admission to hospice care under a dementias/Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis are essentially that our loved ones have already knocked on death’s door and the door is slightly ajar:

Must exhibit two of the following:

  • Ability to speak is limited to 6 words or fewer
  • Ambulatory ability is lost
  • Cannot sit up without assistance
  • Loss of ability to smile
  • Cannot hold up head

Must exhibit all of the following:

  • Inability to ambulate independently
  • Inability to dress unassisted
  • Inability to bathe properly
  • Incontinence of urine and stool
  • Inability to speak or communicate meaningfully

Failure to thrive in the following areas:

Clinical:

  • Progression of disease documented by symptoms or test results
  • Decline in Karnofsky Performance Score
  • Weight loss supported by decreasing albumin or cholesterol

Dependence in two or more of the following:

  • Feeding
  • Ambulation
  • Continence
  • Transfers
  • Bathing and dressing
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) leading to inadequate nutritional intake or recurrent aspiration
  • Increasing emergency visits, hospitalizations, or physician follow-ups related to their primary medical diagnosis
  • A score of 6 or 7 in the Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST) for dementia
  • Progressive stage 3-4 pressure ulcers in spite of care

Because of the prevalence of comorbid diseases – such as heart disease, unmanageable high blood pressure/strokes, diabetes, and organ failure (kidney failure is quite common in these three diseases because they affect the kidneys directly either in the disease itself or in the treatment of the disease) – that exist, especially in our elderly loved ones, alongside of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, it is very likely that admission to hospice care will be for one of the comorbid diseases instead of because of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In my mom’s case, we transitioned to hospice care under heart disease when Mama was having chest pain regularly. The palliative care nurse suggested that we go to the emergency room one morning when the pain was particularly acute and Mama said “No,” and I backed her up (Mama and I had, a few months earlier, according to her wishes, agreed on no more hospitals). Mama had the major heart attack that would, 12 days later, result in her death the following night of the day after she was admitted to hospice.

When our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are admitted to hospice care at home, several things are supposed to happen (I will talk later about researching and deciding on hospice care before you need it since you do not have to use the hospice care of the care agency providing home health and palliative care).

hospice care kit going gentle into that good nightThe first thing is that a comfort kit is overnighted to the home for administration when needed (and if a hospice nurse is not immediately available to provide the care). Included in the comfort kit are basics like liquid morphine (hospice will provide more if needed), mouth swabs (keeps saliva from collecting mouth and throat),  and Atropine drops or Levsin (minimizes wet respiration).

Hospice also has a two-week supply of all medications that our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are taking specifically for the disease they are admitted under overnighted to the home.

A care team consisting of nurses, a social worker, a chaplain, volunteers to sit with our loved ones if we need to get groceries, and certified nurse assistants (CNAs) to help with daily hygiene care is also put in place to assist in supporting our loved ones and their families along the journey to death.

Our loved ones and we can chose which of these non-medical care team members to utilize. In Mama’s case, for example, we had a spiritual inner circle of longtime friends-who-were-family who provided, along with God, our sole spiritual support. We also took care of daily hygiene on our own.

Our experience was less than optimal in the other areas (including nursing until a home health nurse happened to fill in for the hospice nurse the last few days of Mama’s life).

In fact, our experience was so bad that I had decided to switch to another hospice care agency two days before Mama went into her death sleep (for my readers in the Tri-Cities, Tennessee, area, please email me at goinggentleintothatgoodnight@gmail.com for details on the various hospice providers in the area and which one I was going to change to on the recommendation of home health nurses I trusted).

Nursing visits should be frequent, but will increase to daily as death for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease draws closer.

After death, the hospice nurse will be our first contact. They will notify the funeral home, clean up and dress (you can choose to assist or not in this process – I assisted with Mama because it was a way that I could show her respect and maintain her dignity) our loved ones, and take care of the paperwork for the death certificate.

After the funeral home picks up our loved ones, the hospice nurse will, with our assistance, document, dispose of and destroy all the medications provided by hospice, including any remaining comfort care medications.

comfort-hospice-going-gentle-into-that-good-nightLogic would seem to indicate that hospice care team members are sensitive, gentle, and supportive. However, in many cases, none of those things are true.

I did my homework on hospices before Mama needed hospice care. I asked friends of mine who were nurses involved in elderly care for their recommendations since they dealt with all the hospice agencies in the area.

However, one of the caveats I found is that hospice agencies can deal differently with medical professionals (i.e., better) than with family members of loved ones who are in need of hospice.

When I talked to the first hospice agency that had been recommended to me, the first words out of the director’s mouth, before I’d said much more than my name, were “We’re not a babysitting service!”

The nastiness in her tone and what she said took me totally aback. Even looking into hospice care as an option is emotionally and mentally tough because it means we realize that time for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease is short and finite and we’ve accepted the reality of rapidly-approaching death.

Even though there’s a rational, logical, objective component in that realization, the emotional and mental component of wrapping our heads around it isn’t so cut and dry, and a little empathy, compassion, and gentleness in the recognition by a hospice care agency is not unreasonable to expect.

The reason is that the first contact we as caregivers and advocates for our loved ones make to a hospice care agency leaves an impression on us as to the kind of care that agency will provide for our loved ones. If they treat us badly, then it’s safe to assume that is the quality of care that our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease will receive.

I crossed the first hospice care agency off my list simply because of those first words out of the director’s mouth to me.

The hospice care agency that Mama and I ended up with was not the one I wanted because I’d had a similar bad first contact with its director. However, the hospice care unit was in the same provider that we had received home health care and were receiving palliative care from and the hospice care director showed up with the palliative care nurse on the day that Mama was having acute chest pains.

The director of hospice care said it was time to admit Mama to hospice for heart disease and I knew at that point that I didn’t have the luxury of time to get another hospice care agency lined up and on board, so I did what we needed to do for Mama, despite my strongly negative impression from my first meeting with the hospice care director.

For the first eight days Mama was under hospice care, she and I were pretty much on our own. The only real support we got was through a couple of phone calls to the 24/7 medical line.

It was not until a home health care nurse (I knew he was a home health care nurse and he confirmed it when I asked him – the night and day difference in care for Mama and support for me was that obvious) from the agency filled in for the hospice nurse who was finally supposed to visit Mama showed up four days before Mama died that I had any confidence that I had made the right decision by switching Mama to hospice care.

I share this personal experience because it’s not as unusual as you might think. I’ve heard similar stories from other people with other hospice care agencies in other parts of the United States and the world. 

That’s why you need to know that, if our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease have a longer time frame to death than my mom had, you have the ability and the choice to fire a hospice agency that is not working, whatever the reason(s).

Hospice care is designed to be comfort care – and that includes good support for caregivers and the family – and if that is not the outcome for our loved ones and us, then that is unacceptable and we have the freedom to switch to an agency who does provide what a hospice care agency is supposed to.

If You Needed Help, Does Anyone Have What They Need From You to Step Up to the Plate?

financial legal medical documents power of attorney going gentle into that good nightI went to a metropolitan senior center as an observer for an Alzheimer’s Association class today that was eye-opening as far as how few of the seniors in the class knew and understood what legal, medical, and financial documents they needed to have in place in the event that they needed help or could not take care of their own affairs in this area.

The questions they asked, which I was able to help answer, reminded me that I can’t overemphasize the explanations of these documents, the reasons why they are needed, and that the time is now for everybody, regardless of your age and health, to have these in place.

All of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

It seems to me that the very thing we try most to avoid thinking about, talking about, planning for is the very thing that will eventually happen to us all. And that is death.

Denial is, in my opinion, stronger and more pervasive in this area of life than in any other. “If I don’t think about it, then it isn’t real” seems to be the underlying thinking of this denial. I’m here to tell you that all the denial in the world won’t take away its inevitability of happening.

None of us, except those who chose to usurp God’s will and end their own lives, know how or when we’re going to die.

I believe most of us assume it will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I had just graduated from college, but not before having a very serious car accident (one that I miraculously survived with some significant injuries, but nothing like what I should have suffered) just before I graduated.

I’d never been that close to being face-to-face with death before, but it made me realize that I needed to make sure that my affairs – and they were paltry in those days but even then I had life insurance – were in order for the ones I’d leave behind.

From that point on, I have been meticulous about keeping my will up-to-date, the beneficiaries on my insurance policies up-to-date, and all the information my executor will need to take care of things up-to-date. I added a DNR to my medical wishes about 20 years ago, I got my cemetery plot 15 years ago, and I wrote out my funeral service and burial wishes about 10 years ago. 

Additionally, my executor has updated access and account information to everything online and offline to finish up my earthly affairs when I’m gone.

preparation-death-alzheimer's-disease-dementias-age-related-illnessesThis, in my opinion, is the last act of kindness I can do in this physical life. It is also one of the greatest.

Mama used to worry that something would happen to me (i.e., that I would die before she did) and then about what would happen to her. There were times in our lives together that could have been a possibility, but I always reassured her that I’d be there with her to the end. And I was by the grace of God.

Of my parents, Daddy was a paradox when it came to this subject. On the one hand, he had life insurance that would take care of Mama after his death and he insisted, in the year before his death, that Mama get her own checking and savings accounts and get credit cards in her name only.

On the other hand, there were other areas in which he had great difficulty facing his mortality. I remember Mama suggesting that they start getting rid of clothes and other things they weren’t wearing or using anymore and Daddy’s response: “the girls can take care of that.”

The will that Daddy had in effect, until shortly before his death, was the one that he had drawn up just after he and Mama adopted us. None of the information was pertinent or relevant anymore.

After much and extended (I’m talking a couple of years) discussion between Mama and him, they finally went to a lawyer, about six weeks before he died, to have a current will drawn up.

Mama was just the opposite. Somehow, I think all the deaths of close and beloved relatives in her early years made the inevitability of death more real to her. She, primarily, during our growing up years, talked on a regular basis about what would happen to us if she and Daddy died and how we needed to take care of each other and be good kids so the road without them would be easier for us.

Not long after Daddy died, she and I sat down together (I was now checking in daily and helping her navigate through some of the things that Daddy had done and offering advice and assistance as she needed it) and she told me what she wanted – and didn’t want – as far as end-of-life wishes.

We went to an attorney together and she did a will (which she later changed to a revocable living trust), living will, and all the POA paperwork. I had copies, she had copies, and she put copies in a safety deposit box at the bank.

At that time, I didn’t need or want knowledge or access to her financial accounts, but as time went on, she needed more of my help in dealing with them, so she gave me access to get into the accounts and help her (we always sat down and did this together until she wasn’t able to anymore) keep up with bills and what she had. 

By doing this with me, Mama made things much easier for me when the time came that I had to step in because she couldn’t do it.

I can’t thank Mama enough for her foresight with this gift. Instead of having to focus on everything brand new coming at me at once, I could focus on what was most important, and that was Mama: loving her, caring for her, being there for her.

The last couple of months Mama was alive, we’d be sitting close, holding hands, and talking and suddenly she’d say “I don’t want be a burden on you,” with tears rolling down her cheeks. I’d squeeze her hands and pull her closer in a hug, kissing the tears away from her cheeks, saying, “Mama, you’re not a burden to me. I love you unconditionally. I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else but right here doing this with you.”

Mama would relax in my embrace and I would hold her tighter as I said these words because they were true and we both recognized that they were true, but most of all, I recognized how easy Mama had made things for me by equipping me with what I needed to step in easily and take care of the routine things so that I could save my energy, my focus, and my love for taking care of her.

The Layperson’s Guide to Palliative Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

In the post “The Layperson’s Guide to Home Health Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease,” we discussed what home health care is, when it should and can be used, and what services it provides.

In this post, we will discuss what palliative health care is, when and why it should and can be used, and what services it provides at home for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Although, as any caregiver can tell you, dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are always on the radar with our loved ones who have these neurological diseases, there are often other health-related and age-related illnesses that our loved ones are also dealing with, especially if they’re elderly.

Home health care services are available – and should be used – when there is an acute medical condition that needs to be monitored and resolved (if possible) after our loved ones are discharge from a medical facility. Examples of acute medical conditions can include hard-to-manage/uncontrollable blood pressure, diabetes, life-threatening cardiac events, pneumonia, embolisms, strokes, and joint replacements.

As soon as the acute medical condition no longer exists, home health care services are no longer available. However, most home health care agencies have an intermediate health care option between home health care and hospice (end-of-life, with very specific criteria, which we’ll discuss in the next post) care.

That intermediate option is palliative health care at home.

Palliative health care provides home health care services when someone has a serious long-term or terminal illness, but death is not imminent or the prognosis is longer than six months. 

Palliative health care provides life-prolonging and curative treatments – just as home health care does – as well as providing pain management and symptomatic relief.

palliative health care layperson's guidePalliative health care offers the same interdisciplinary team and services that home health care offers: nurses (visits are usually one a week), physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, home care aides to help with daily activities like bathing, if necessary, and 24/7 nursing/medical support.

Like home health care, this palliative health care team’s manager is the nurse who coordinates and collaborates with the primary care physician and other palliative health care staff.

Palliative health care is an excellent bridge that gives us and our loved ones time to find, consider, and agree on options for care without being rushed into making a decision without having all the facts, discussing and understanding them, and being ready to live (or die) with them.

The goals of palliative health care are different than home health care. With the knowledge that death is the eventual outcome, the emphasis of palliative health care is in the following areas:

  • Comfort and relief from physical symptoms like pain, nausea, fluid retention, and shortness of breath
  • Communication and coordination of issues, treatments, and needs among doctors (although at this point, I’d personally recommend – and this is what Mom and I agreed to – just working with a primary care physician), other palliative health care staff, our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease and us
  • Time to pursue treatment options, if wanted, and time to prepare for death (discussing death, ensuring that all “loose ends” are tied up, meeting personal goals, and saying goodbye)

Since most home health care agencies have a palliative health care program, the transition is easy – either we and our loved ones or the home health care nurse will ask the primary care physician to write an order – and seamless – the same team of nurses and therapists continues throughout the palliative health care phase of care.

Some palliative health care programs have social workers and clergy on staff to help with any community-based services that may be needed in the home and to offer bereavement counseling.

The palliative health care program that Mom was in did not have those services, but we were self-sufficient in terms of a social worker and we had enough spiritual support from our close-knit group of long-time friends within our church family.

Palliative health care should be, at some point, a part of the care we ensure is in place for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Most people don’t even realize this option is available – and our loved ones do not have to have been receiving home health care services to receive palliative care – and that is one of the reasons I wanted to explain what it is, what is does, and why it’s a crucial part of the team approach to care that we lead for our loved ones.

In the next post, and the last one in this series, we’ll discuss hospice care.

Medical, Financial, and Legal Advocacy and Help: What Happens If You Can’t Advocate For and Help Yourself?

All of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

It seems to me that the very thing we try most to avoid thinking about, talking about, planning for is the very thing that will eventually happen to us all. And that is death.

Denial is, in my opinion, stronger and more pervasive in this area of life than in any other. “If I don’t think about it, then it isn’t real” seems to be the underlying thinking of this denial. I’m here to tell you that all the denial in the world won’t take away its inevitability of happening.

None of us, except those who chose to usurp God’s will and end their own lives, know how or when we’re going to die.

I believe most of us assume it will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I had just graduated from college, but not before having a very serious car accident (one that I miraculously survived with some significant injuries, but nothing like what I should have suffered) just before I graduated.

I’d never been that close to being face-to-face with death before, but it made me realize that I needed to make sure that my affairs – and they were paltry in those days but even then I had life insurance – were in order for the ones I’d leave behind.

From that point on, I have been meticulous about keeping my will up-to-date, the beneficiaries on my insurance policies up-to-date, and all the information my executor will need to take care of things up-to-date. I added a DNR to my medical wishes about 20 years ago, I got my cemetery plot 15 years ago, and I wrote out my funeral service and burial wishes about 10 years ago. 

Additionally, my executor has updated access and account information to everything online and offline to finish up my earthly affairs when I’m gone.

preparation-death-alzheimer's-disease-dementias-age-related-illnessesThis, in my opinion, is the last act of kindness I can do in this physical life. It is also one of the greatest.

Mama used to worry that something would happen to me (i.e., that I would die before she did) and then about what would happen to her. There were times in our lives together that could have been a possibility, but I always reassured her that I’d be there with her to the end. And I was by the grace of God.

Of my parents, Daddy was a paradox when it came to this subject. On the one hand, he had life insurance that would take care of Mama after his death and he insisted, in the year before his death, that Mama get her own checking and savings accounts and get credit cards in her name only.

On the other hand, there were other areas in which he had great difficulty facing his mortality. I remember Mama suggesting that they start getting rid of clothes and other things they weren’t wearing or using anymore and Daddy’s response: “the girls can take care of that.”

The will that Daddy had in effect, until shortly before his death, was the one that he had drawn up just after he and Mama adopted us. None of the information was pertinent or relevant anymore.

After much and extended (I’m talking a couple of years) discussion between Mama and him, they finally went to a lawyer, about six weeks before he died, to have a current will drawn up.

Mama was just the opposite. Somehow, I think all the deaths of close and beloved relatives in her early years made the inevitability of death more real to her. She, primarily, during our growing up years, talked on a regular basis about what would happen to us if she and Daddy died and how we needed to take care of each other and be good kids so the road without them would be easier for us.

Not long after Daddy died, she and I sat down together (I was now checking in daily and helping her navigate through some of the things that Daddy had done and offering advice and assistance as she needed it) and she told me what she wanted – and didn’t want – as far as end-of-life wishes.

We went to an attorney together and she did a will (which she later changed to a revocable living trust), living will, and all the POA paperwork. I had copies, she had copies, and she put copies in a safety deposit box at the bank.

At that time, I didn’t need or want knowledge or access to her financial accounts, but as time went on, she needed more of my help in dealing with them, so she gave me access to get into the accounts and help her (we always sat down and did this together until she wasn’t able to anymore) keep up with bills and what she had. 

By doing this with me, Mama made things much easier for me when the time came that I had to step in because she couldn’t do it.

I can’t thank Mama enough for her foresight with this gift. Instead of having to focus on everything brand new coming at me at once, I could focus on what was most important, and that was Mama: loving her, caring for her, being there for her as her advocate on all fronts, including in legal, medical, and financial affairs.

The last couple of months Mama was alive, we’d be sitting close, holding hands, and talking and suddenly she’d say “I don’t want be a burden on you,” with tears rolling down her cheeks. I’d squeeze her hands and pull her closer in a hug, kissing the tears away from her cheeks, saying, “Mama, you’re not a burden to me. I love you unconditionally. I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else but right here doing this with you.”

Mama would relax in my embrace and I would hold her tighter as I said these words because they were true and we both recognized that they were true, but most of all, I recognized how easy Mama had made things for me by equipping me with what I needed to step in easily and take care of the routine things so that I could save my energy, my focus, and my love for taking care of her.