Health Care and Law

Legal and community resources for families affected by dementia

August 31, 2017
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Perhaps you've heard the staggering statistics of how dementia is affecting our community. As our population ages (and life expectancies continue to rise), more people are affected by memory loss. It's estimated there are 10,000 people in Kent County currently living with dementia, and it's expected that number will almost triple by 2050.

About 30,000 Kent County residents already are serving as caregivers to people with dementia, and that number will rise exponentially, too.

If you or a family member have received a dementia diagnosis, you're likely feeling overwhelmed and lost, and thinking about doctors and other caregivers and long term care and housing options and how to guard against outliving your resources, and, and, and…

So many questions, perhaps including these:

I'm up to my eyeballs in doctors. Do I really need an attorney, too?

Maybe. If you have a complete and recent estate plan in place, you may already have addressed the legal needs a dementia diagnosis can trigger. If not, or if many years have passed or other circumstances have changed since you created your estate plan, or if you created your estate plan online without actually discussing your specific circumstances with an attorney, there is no time like the present. Do talk with an attorney. 

OK, I have an estate planning attorney, but I was told I need an elder law attorney. What's the difference?

Most elder law attorneys do traditional estate planning, but also handle a wide range of legal matters affecting older or disabled persons, including issues related to long-term care planning, guardianships and conservatorships, and special needs trusts. Your estate planning attorney may or may not practice in these areas. Ask.

I don't need to spend all my time and energy and money on lawyers, do I?

Luckily, there are other resources in our community — many of them free — to help you navigate through the non-legal challenges. I personally love the team at Crossroads Eldercare Planning for identifying options for senior housing. Find them here. Rethinking Dementia: Accelerating Change, a community collaborative dedicated to promoting awareness, access and aggregation of dementia services and practices in the West Michigan area, just launched a brand new online resource designed to help those dealing with dementia find services, tips, providers and answers.

The website is a search engine for every stage of the dementia process. Users can navigate resources available in Kent County ranging from getting and understanding a diagnosis, to support groups, to hospice care, and everything in between.

You can help yourself and your loved ones by being proactive and well-informed, but be assured there are many of us out there who have dedicated our professional lives to helping individuals and families who are struggling through these issues. Let us help, too.