Are there early signs of dementia?

I should start off by saying clearly that I am neither a doctor nor a trained medical professional. I’m an estate planning and elder law attorney with a background in science and an interest in reading about dementia. That being said, I also learn daily from my elder clients regarding their own lives, the signs of mental decline as they experience it, and their personal observations about the status of their spouse or other loved ones.

As sad as it may be, it’s all too often that people have not done the proper legal planning in advance of the dementia reaching a level where the individual can no longer sign any legal documents expressing their wishes. The issues then come to the surface. Who do they want to handle their affairs? How do they want their assets handled while they’re still living? How do they want their assets distributed after their death?

How is it that so many families find themselves in the position of having an elder with dementia, and not having the right plan put in place? I often hear that the elder was “coping” okay, and nobody wanted to have the difficult conversation that “maybe it’s time we do something.” Many times, a person will notice signs of early dementia in themselves or their spouse or parent, and then take action. At other times, people hide from the reality and hope it will go away.

I have had many cases where one spouse, or an adult child, comes to me and says that their spouse or parent was “doing okay” so nobody was too worried, and then they suddenly took a rapid and dramatic decline into severe dementia. It happens.

None of us know how dementia will affect a given individual, or what the timeline will be between noticing the first signs and reaching a point where the person refuses to sign any documents or simply does not have the mental capacity to sign. Don’t let this happen to you or a close friend or loved one. Be proactive and do some advance planning to protect the individual and the family.