For Better, For Worse – What About “Forget”?

The New York Times recently published a heart-wrenching article entitled: A Rare Form of Dementia Tests a Vow of ‘for Better, for Worse’

It discusses a rare form of dementia called “frontotemporal dementia”, which eats away at personality and language. The article goes over some of the science behind the disease, but what was staggering to me was that it struck people at a much earlier age than Alzheimer’s. A 71-year-old man was showing signs of the disease in his mid-50s, and the article shows us how his wife dealt with the disease, its symptoms and the devastating effect it had on their lives. 

Given the advances in health care, and the love with which many spouses care for a sick spouse, people with this affliction can last decades. As the disease progresses, the victim may become aggressive, which can get patients kicked out of nursing homes because of the physical threat they pose. 

All of these factors make it likely that a couple will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in care – probably down to their last few dimes. When it’s all gone, Medicaid might step in and pay for care. However, that bleak scenario will come true only if you fail to plan ahead and seek advice at the last possible moment – as many do.

It’s crucial that you visit with an elder law attorney the moment that a diagnosis of any form of dementia is made. With dementia, often there is lots of time before you have to consider a move to an assisted living facility, or a nursing home. That time is a precious commodity that can help save your family thousands upon thousands of dollars with proper planning, or be squandered as you wait for the disease to get worse. 

The stress of caring for someone who is mentally deteriorating can take an enormous emotional toll on a spouse or caregiver family member. That toll is emotional, of course, but also physical and financial. You can reduce all three by taking away the financial stress of worrying what happens to the money, and by making certain that your legal ducks are in order by visiting an attorney who focuses in this area.

I’ve met with too many families to come to me in the final hours to be anything but unequivocal in my advice that older folks need to pre-plan aggressively to prepare for this last part of the journey. 

Full disclosure: I cried when I read this part:

In April last year, Mrs. French placed her husband in a nursing home in Manhattan. Along with her sadness came feelings of relief and freedom. Soon after he was settled, she went out to dinner with friends for the first time in two years.

“At times, I ache for him to be back in the apartment,” she said. “But I ache for him to be back as him.”

She said that long after he ceased speaking, he continues to understand what she says.

“I remember asking his neurologist, ‘Will he know me?’ ” Mrs. French said. “And he said, ‘Oh, he’ll always know you. He might not be able to express it in a way that will be familiar to you or that you’ll like, but he’ll always know you.’ ”

She wondered what longings might drive her husband’s dreams:

“I asked him, ‘Do you talk in your dreams?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ And I asked him, ‘Do you dream about me?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ”


Posted by Victor Medina

Medina Law Group & The New Jersey Estate Planning Center