Holiday visits often highlight how much time has passed since we last saw loved ones. And, sometimes, during these visits, we notice physical or cognitive changes in elderly friends or family members that are worrisome.
When reflecting back on a visit, the following “clues” may suggest that an elderly loved one has a cognitive or physical disability that needs to be addressed:
1. If you visited his/her home,
a. was there an unusual amount of clutter and debris?
b. did you see stacks of unopened mail and piles of laundry?
c. was the refrigerator relatively empty; did it contain an excessive amount of outdated or spoiled food?
d. did the cabinets contain misplaced items like cleaning supplies in the food pantry or keys in the refrigerator?
2. Regardless of where the visit took place, did your loved one
a. appear poorly groomed?
b. appear to have gained or lost a significant amount of weight?
c. have trouble hearing, following the conversation, or recognizing family members and friends?
d. exhibit any other behaviors that seemed to limit his/her ability to function normally?
If you noticed some or all of the above, it may be time to have a discussion with that individual. This is no small challenge. Having a conversation with a friend or family member regarding his/her quality of life going forward and end-of-life issues requires a great deal of sensitivity. You don’t want to insult or frighten anyone. On the other hand, addressing the problem early on may help avoid many more difficult problems later. Gaining a thorough understanding of a person’s beliefs, values, and wishes may ultimately help the family and designated caregiver make the tough decisions consistent with that person’s preferences.
And while you’re at it, it’s important that you encourage your loved one to have decisions about finances, health care, and end-of-life issues put in writing. That means having legal documents prepared such as Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Health Care Proxies. Although doing so costs money, the time and stress avoided in the long run can make this a truly wise investment. Once a person is incapacitated, certain circumstances (such as cognitive impairment) may prevent him/her from proceeding with preparing documents. However, if the documents are already in place, then family members, caregivers and the courts have written, legal instructions to fall back on, removing a lot of potential guesswork.
Getting Legal Help:
If you need guidance regarding documents required to protect a loved one, contact experienced Estate Planning and Probate Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, at 973-841-5111.
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