A recent study performed at the University of Michigan and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Health Forum found 1 in 2 older adults now die with a diagnosis of dementia, up 36% from two decades ago. While researchers involved in the study have pointed out that this rise can likely be attributed to more detailed medical records, changes in Medicare billing rules, and an increase in public awareness of dementia, these results still show dementia among older adults is more common than previously thought.
The study involved data from 3.5 million people over the age of 67 who died between 2004 and 2017. Researchers studied bills submitted to Medicare over the last 2 years of the patients’ lives looking for diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. They found in 2004, about 35% of them had at least one mention of dementia in their medical records; by 2017, that figure had risen to 47%.
Dementia and Elder Law
Regardless of the reason behind the substantial increase in dementia diagnoses being listed in patients’ medical records, the legal ramifications are the same for everyone. People living with dementia may become the subject of a guardianship and face other issues without proper advance planning, so it is crucial they prepare for that possibility while they are still mentally able to do so.
One important consideration everyone should make involves appointing an agent under a power of attorney. Dementia patients can often have difficulty managing their own affairs and making decisions on their own. When that happens, the person or persons who hold their power of attorney will be empowered to make decisions on their behalf. For example, the person who is your agent under your medical power of attorney can talk to your doctor about care options if your dementia becomes severe.
You can also appoint someone agent under your financial power of attorney. This person would be empowered to make financial decisions on your behalf, like selling your home to help pay for memory care or other dementia treatments. The agent under your financial power of attorney can be the same person who holds your medical power of attorney, or they can be two different people.
People living with dementia may also be declared unfit to manage their own affairs. In these cases, they will need a guardian to take on that role for them. A guardian holds a lot of power over the way you live your life, so you want to be sure it is someone you trust. In the absence of any documents like powers of attorney and guardianship declarations, the courts can appoint someone to fill this role. If you have appointed someone you trust as agent under medical or financial power of attorney, that person gets preference if a guardian appointment is necessary.
Elder Law Attorney in Pennsylvania
The time to make declarations about your powers of attorney is now, while you are still mentally able to do so. If you want to make sure your wishes will be known for the future you need to speak with an attorney who specializes in elder law. Robert Slutsky is one of the most experienced elder law attorneys in Pennsylvania. If you are looking for guardianship lawyers in Delaware County, PA or you need advice about estate planning in neighboring counties, get in touch with him today. Call (610) 940-0650 or fill out the form on our contact page to request a consultation with one of the top elder law attorneys in the state.