By Keri Pollock, Director of Marketing and Communications, Aging Wisdom
I often reflect on the relationships I’ve developed in my twenty-plus years working in the aging field. The most honest and real are those I’ve made with individuals who are living with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. And as a tail-end baby boomer, I also wonder about the future of aging and what lies ahead for me, with a history of dementia on both sides of my family tree, and my friends. Many are single, either by choice or circumstance.
The topic of providing services for people with dementia who live alone is an important one. Look at the statistics: one-third of people living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias (ADOD) live alone, and many want to remain living independently. Living independently would be my goal too.
How do we make that happen for as long as feasibly possible? How do we work with people living with ADOD to balance a person’s safety, well-being and personal needs while respecting her/his autonomy and desire for independence?
The best time to start is immediately. Here’s the reality: Alzheimer’s and most other dementias are progressive, and the earlier in the progression that planning takes place, the better. What’s most important is that the individual living with a diagnosis of ADOD has a voice and an active role in planning his or her future. Being proactive is the first step forward.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start this conversation. With dementia experts on staff, your local chapter (you can find your chapter by visiting alz.org) offers the best foundation for connections to local resources, supports and planning. A call to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline – 800.272.3900 – can get the ball rolling.
Another truth to consider is that ADOD brings with it impairments in memory, as well as in judgment and ability to plan or carry out activities, and can create many risk factors for individuals living alone. Research shows people living with ADOD are at high risk for self-neglect, malnutrition, injury, medication errors, financial exploitation, unmet care needs and nursing home placement. Understanding this should serve as an impetus to start sooner rather than later on creating a plan and getting paperwork and supports in order.
Your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter can also connect you with allied professionals who help address and anticipate some of the more complicated and long-term concerns around health and disability, legal, financial, family, housing and crisis intervention. Consulting with an Aging Life Care Professional™ (geriatric care manager) and an Elder Law attorney can help answer more difficult questions, as well as attend to essential planning and paperwork.
Interested in learning more? Plan to attend Discovery 2016 – the 31st Annual Alzheimer’s Regional Conference on Friday, April 15. I’ll be facilitating a panel discussion on this topic with Joanne Maher, M.S.W., Director of Programs & Services, Washington State Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association; Wendy Nathan, B.S., Care Manager, Aging Wisdom; and Janet Smith, J.D., Northwest Elder Law Group. We’ll discuss planning and services to provide care and safety for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia who live alone.
Keri Pollock is the director of marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care™ practice (also known as geriatric care management) serving King, south Snohomish and Whatcom Counties. She has served as a volunteer at the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter since 2005, and worked at the Chapter for six years as director of marketing and communications (2009-14). At the core of everything she does is a personal mission to get meaningful, actionable information to people when they most need it.