Dementia afflicts millions of people in the United States, and tens of millions of people worldwide. With improvements in life expectancy, that number is expected to continue to rise in the coming decades. Meeting the needs of dementia sufferers, including estate planning and long-term care, is therefore a vitally important and growing challenge. In order to be of greater assistance to my clients, I recently became a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP). This means that I have completed training and met other professional requirements related to the needs of individuals living with dementia in Michigan.
“Dementia” is not a single distinct illness or disorder. Instead, the term covers multiple conditions with similar symptoms, including Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and others. The National Institute on Aging defines “dementia” as “the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities.” According to the World Health Organization, about fifty million people worldwide suffer from dementia.
The symptoms of dementia can range from mild impairment, such as occasional memory problems, to severe impairment that requires full-time care. Common symptoms include:
A diagnosis of dementia can be devastating for individuals and families. A person experiencing the symptoms of dementia, or who has received a diagnosis of dementia, may experience shock, fear, anger, grief, or any combination of these emotions. It could affect their self-confidence, causing them to doubt their own perceptions and feelings. It could trigger depression, anxiety, or both. Feelings of loss of control could cause someone to act in unpredictable ways. A diagnosis also might come as a relief to some extent, since it means they can finally put a name to their symptoms.
Their families and friends will experience a similar range of emotions. They face the prospect of losing a loved one instead of losing themselves. They often make up the inner circle of the person’s support network, but they must take care of themselves, too. This includes addressing their own emotions surrounding the diagnosis.
Medication and other therapies are available to help offset or delay many dementia symptoms, but people may need help to stick to a regimen. Family and friends can also support a person with dementia by, for example:
The National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP) issues the CDP certification to professionals who have “received comprehensive knowledge in the area of dementia care,” completed a training program, and demonstrated commitment in their careers to caring for individuals suffering from dementia. It is not a professional license. The NCCDP describes it as “a compliment [sic] to the professional credentials and training you already have obtained in your chosen profession and your choice to work with the geriatric profession.”
In order to obtain certification as a CDP, a person must meet the following requirements:
I received my certification in 2019, after many years of working with clients and families of clients who suffer from dementia.
Individuals who have been diagnosed with dementia must deal with specific legal issues relating to their condition. Caregivers, including friends and family who provide care, must also address legal concerns arising from the diagnosis and the symptoms. An attorney with CDP certification is in a unique position to help clients in these positions.
Protecting one’s assets is an important part of processes like estate planning and business planning. A diagnosis of dementia adds another dimension to these processes. In addition to protection from creditors, bankruptcy, and natural disasters, it becomes necessary to protect one’s assets from those who might take advantage of the condition. It might become necessary to protect one’s assets from oneself. This could be accomplished, for example, through the creation of trusts or the appointment of a guardian. A CDP can help people navigate the unique concerns that dementia presents.
Dementia tends to progress over time. A person who is able to care for themselves when they receive a diagnosis may lose more and more function over time, until they need around-the-clock care. It is therefore critically important to create a plan as soon as possible. This could be through long-term Medicaid planning or other methods. A CDP with experience in Medicaid funding can guide individuals and families through a process best described as labyrinthine.
For a person diagnosed with dementia, estate planning often means that the process of planning for incapacity must begin early. The person should finalize a will and sign other estate planning documents as soon as possible.
As with asset protection, a key issue in estate planning in this sort of situation is ensuring the absence of undue influence. That means that a big part of an estate planning lawyer’s job is making sure their client is creating the estate plan that they want, not one that someone else is manipulating them into creating. CDP attorneys are trained in understanding the symptoms of dementia, and in how to keep others from taking advantage of those symptoms.
Elder law attorney and certified dementia practitioner Rebecca J. Braun practices in Southeast Michigan with Mobile Legal Services, PLLC. She is available to answer your questions about estate planning, Medicaid eligibility, and related matters. She will travel, free of charge, to clients in Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, Livingston, and Southern Macomb Counties. To schedule a free and confidential initial assessment, please contact us today through our website or at (734) 407-7657.