Another celebrity is in the news, sadly this time the beloved Tim Conway who is suffering from dementia (Alzheimer's Disease it seems). Here's a link to the article. What a terrible disease this is. It's hard to imagine a more gut-wrenching emotional pain then to see someone you love and admire and enjoy being around slowly slipping away without a recognizable good-bye.
Alzheimer's Disease Does Not Discriminate
As an Elder Law attorney for many years, one thing I know for certain is that Alzheimer's Disease does not discriminate who it decides to attack. We know very little about how it occurs, how to prevent it, or what to do once it is diagnosed. And there still is no cure. Some medications may slow the progression of the disease and address some of the early symptoms, but the disease marches on until you can no longer care for yourself, which seems to be the case with Tim Conway.
50% of People Over 85 Will Be Diagnosed With Dementia
In 2008 approximately 39 million people were diagnosed with dementia, and by 2030, that number is expected to rise to 72 million people. Close to 50% of those 85 and older will exhibit symptoms of dementia, usually Alzheimer's disease. Statistically, 70% of dementia is Alzheimer's. These are startling statistics that inform us that we are facing a tsunami of people over the next 30 years who will need the compassion and care of others around them to manage their daily affairs.
How Best to Plan
In light of the reality that if we live long enough many of us will develop some form of dementia, the best thing you can do is what I tell people all the time: Take control while you are in control. That means, while you are still healthy and fully capable, take the time necessary to execute a Durable Power of Attorney and Advanced Health Care Directive (or Living Will). These are documents in which you can appoint someone to make decisions for you when and if you are unable to do so.
You can also specify in these documents the type of care you expect if you should become disabled and no longer capable of managing your own affairs, or if you have a terminal illness and need life support. You should select someone who will advocate for what you want and not make decisions that are most convenient for them or other family members. Without these documents, you leave to chance who the person will be to make these critical decisions for you and most likely, it will end up being the person you least want serving in that important role.
How to Avoid the Conflict
In the case of Tim Conway, it sounds like there is conflict now between one of his children and his spouse (I presume it's a step-child/mother relationship). It is common to have conflict like this where you have a step-parent situation since the loyalties are in question and the underlying relationship may be strained to begin with. However, that's all the more reason you need to have these documents in place with clear direction about who you want to be in control of your affairs once you are no longer able to do so. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, most courts will appoint the person you named in your Power of Attorney or Living Will as your legal guardian if someone elects to challenge your choices. In a prior blog post, I addressed this issue of conflict between siblings which further explores this dynamic.
The case of Tim Conway certainly gives us pause to start thinking about ways to control our destinies should be become disabled. More importantly, however, is that the Tim Conway story reminds us all of how precious life is and how appreciative we should be of our good health and ability to engage with others. We are owed nothing in this life and everything we have is on loan.
So, amidst all the hustle and bustle, let's always make sure we take some time out of our busy lives to stop and smell the roses. What we all take for granted today may not be there tomorrow.