Early Onset Alzheimer’s-Type Dementia

by Stephan J. Lipskis, Esq.

We’ve all felt moments where we’ve struggled to come up with a word or thought that is on the tip of our tongue, and many of us fear that these so-called “senior moments” are a sign of memory loss or serious cognitive disorder. On June 28, 2016 Patricia “Pat” Summitt, the legendary basketball coach for the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, lost her battle with early onset Alzheimer’s-type dementia, which she brought into the national spotlight upon her diagnosis in 2011. Coach Summitt was not a person who lost often, and by all accounts handled the transition in her life brought on by her disease with determination and grace. A rapid decline from a cognitive disorder at a young age, similar to that experienced by Coach Summitt, is a frightening prospect for anyone and merits an analysis of what should be done upon diagnosis.

Early onset Alzheimer’s –type dementia accounts for about 5% of the 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s according to the Alzheimer’s Association. While this is a relatively small population, the consequences of the disease are devastating on a number of levels. Early onset Alzheimer’s-type dementia affects individuals younger than sixty-five, frequently afflicting those in their forties or fifties.   Unlike the retired and elderly, these younger individuals frequently are mid-career and raising families. The additional caregiving burden and loss of income can frequently be devastating.

The initial diagnosis often paralyzes an individual with fear of a future with diminished capacity, but it should be a call to spring to action. Those diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s have to plan for their future or they will be creating large problems at work, at home, and with their family’s finances. Coach Summitt proactively planned after her diagnosis by stepping back her coaching responsibilities and transitioning control of the team to new leaders. That transition must have been difficult for a coach who won eight national championships and was a fixture at the University of Tennessee, but it was necessary. Such change is never easy, but a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, if caught early, generally means there is some time to make necessary changes. Frequently, catastrophic disease and accidents occur without any opportunity to plan; for this reason, an early diagnosis should be seen as an opportunity.

Aside from planning the transition of responsibilities at work and home, it is critical that plans be made with regard to legal decision-making documents. The diagnosed individual must determine which individuals will be in charge of financial and medical decisions when the cognitive decline worsens. From a financial standpoint, planning for care and other expenses should be undertaken immediately. If time is wasted prior to a plan being undertaken, it may mean that no true plan can be put in place because the diagnosed individual is not able to participate materially. Coach Summitt’s timeline between diagnosis and death was just over five years, which may seem long, but, due to the progressive nature of the disease, Coach Summitt had a significantly shorter period in which to plan.

A comprehensive financial and legal plan is critical to addressing the issues that will arise in the case of early onset Alzheimer’s. The ability to leverage insurance and government benefits can help alleviate potential losses in income. Additionally, making a comprehensive plan can alleviate stress for both caregivers and the diagnosed individual. Alleviating the day-to-day stress of the diagnosis allows for the diagnosed individual and caregiver to change focus from the stress of the diagnosis to the matters that the individual cares about and allows for important time to create memories, leave a legacy, and assist family members in adjusting to the diagnosis.

The elder law and estate planning attorneys at the Hook Law Center frequently assist families in navigating the complex legal and financial issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive conditions. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, especially early onset Alzheimer’s, allow us to assist in planning for your future.

Kit Kat

Ask Kit Kat – Wildlife Highway

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the wildlife highway which Texas has built to help ocelots survive?

Kit Kat: Well, this is an extremely interesting story. Ocelots look like leopards, but are quite a bit smaller. They are about twice the size of the average domestic shorthair cat. Texas has one of the largest colonies of ocelots near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which is near Brownsville at the mouth of the Rio Grande. The refuge occupies 98,000 acres.

Before the recent commitment by the Texas Department of Transportation known as TxDot to build crossings around highways which crossed through the refuge, ocelots were being killed at an alarming rate. 40% of their deaths were related to traffic accidents. At first, Texas seemed reluctant to intervene, but with time TxDot changed their position and began in May to build a dozen wildlife underpasses in and around the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Four of them are critical and are strategically placed to help the ocelots navigate the concrete divider on Highway 100 which is on the way to South Padre Island, a popular vacation spot. Another eight are being installed on FM 106 (a farm-to-market road) that runs through Laguna Atascosa. The total cost for the projects is around $6 million.

TxDot’s actions come at a critical time. Less than 100 ocelots remain in and near the refuge, and seven have been killed in traffic accidents in the past year. When a female is killed, it is especially devastating to the colony, because she can only reproduce every two years, because of the time spent being pregnant and nursing offspring. The males are vulnerable, too. Younger males in overcrowded situations get pushed out of more desirable areas, and are forced to live in areas with more human population.

Private efforts are also helping. Ranchers, who possess the bulk of the ocelot population, are being encouraged to maintain natural areas on their ranches and to preserve the thorn scrub bush which ocelots feed on. All of these efforts will help the ocelot live and, hopefully, even thrive in the future. (http://www.takepart.com/article.2016/05/27/texas-builds-road-help-endangered-ocelots-survive)

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