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We’re learning more about Alzheimer’s and dementia every day. New research and findings are getting closer to understanding what causes these illnesses, how we can prevent them, and hopefully someday even a cure. Even though we’re not where we want to be yet, we can still do a lot to ensure that we can age as we choose.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Unfortunately, we can’t predict who will be affected. Aside from taking good care of ourselves with a healthy lifestyle, we can only hope we don’t get one of these illnesses. The reality is that most people will deal with some kind of dementia—whether it’s the individual, a spouse, sibling, parent, or other loved one.

If we know that these kinds of illnesses are common, we need to prepare for them. Since dementias rob us of our cognitive abilities, there are a few things we need to do:

1. Make decisions – These decisions range from how you want to be taken care of, where you want to be, who will help, who will make decisions, and what will happen to your estate when you lose capacity and/or pass away. No one wants to make these decisions. They’re hard and it’s not that fun. We know that. But you have to do your best now. It will take the burden off your loved ones in the event they need to know what you would want. Do it now to save them the heartache and so they can focus on taking care of you.

2. Talk about our decisions – Once you’ve made your decisions, you can’t let them exist in a vacuum. You have to have several conversations with your loved ones about your wishes. Talk to them about what you value, how you want to live. Start broadly, and then get more specific. These conversations can be difficult—on both sides—but they have to happen. And one is not enough: your decisions and wishes will likely change over time, especially as your health changes.

3. Document those decisions and our decision-makers – This is the last piece of the puzzle. You have to write down and document your wishes. This makes it easier for your family to get what you asked for. They won’t have to go to court or see a judge to make sure your wishes are looked after. This step will save them heartache, too, making it easier for them to focus on you and your health. Many people take this step without informing their family (step 2). This can backfire if your family doesn’t know what you have documented! They could be hurt, upset, or confused if they aren’t informed. Just keep them in the loop.

Do you need some help starting the conversation or documenting your wishes? Contact our office. We love to help families with these really important steps.