Ethical Considerations in Dementia

I am currently attending the Advanced Elder Law Institute in Indianapolis.  This is a two-day continuing education seminar with a variety of speakers on various elder law related topics.  Currently, Dr. Patrick Healey, a physician at the St. Vincent Center for Health and Aging, is presenting on ethical considerations for patients with dementia.  He stated that in these cases there are often no "black & white" answers.  Dementia is not the disease, but rather the symptom.  There are a number of diseases where memory loss and confusion may be the symptom.  However, 60% of people with dementia have Alzheimer's disease, according to Dr. Healy.

Dr. Healy also stated that 60% to 80% of nursing home patients have some form of dementia and over five-million people over the age of 65 have some form of dementia.  He believes early diagnosis is very important which can allow the patient to get some treatment that may help him or her, there can be help put in place to protect the safety of the patient and others, and appropriate legal planning can be put in place before the person's mental capacity is severely affected.  He relies a lot on what family members and loved ones notice about the patient and often times the first indication of problems exhibit themselves as a change in behavior.  He encourages those loved ones to provide, in writing, a list of their concerns and the changes in behavior that they have noticed.

Dr. Healy also offered tips on dealing with persons with dementia and issues surrounding caregivers.  Caregivers need to recognize the need for help and he has seen all too often when caregivers may work themselves into the ground by trying to provide all the care without any respite relief or other help.  Obviously this is not good for the caregiver nor their loved one.

The bottom line is that if you suspect a family member or loved one may have some form of dementia you should put your concerns in writing to your loved one's doctor and try to get an assessment performed.  Early diagnosis is key to helping your loved one.  Of course, the apropriate legal planning should be done as well to avoid court guardianship matters and putting in place advanced medical directives as well as other planning steps that may be appropriate.