Televangelist and former Presidential Candidate Pat Robertson recently told his “700 Club” viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s is justifiable because the disease is “a kind of death.” Many conservative evangelicals were quick to condemn these remarks on the basis that they view traditional marriage as the cornerstone of morality and society. Sandra Weintraub, professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Alzheimer’s center of the Northwestern University school of medicine, said that many people develop new relationships while caring for a spouse in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, but that advising them to seek a divorce “strikes me as ludicrous.” While I certainly don’t agree with the remarks made by Robertson, neither am I willing to so quickly condemn him for his views. This is an incredibly complex problem and brings to light the many misconceptions about Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5.4 million Americans suffer from the disease. The disease is the most common of a large group of disorders known as “dementias”. It is a disease of the brain, characterized by deterioration of thinking ability and of memory, caused by the progressive degeneration of brain cells. The disease also affects mood and emotions, behavior and one’s ability to perform activities of daily living. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease nor can its progression be reversed.
One common misconception about Alzheimer’s is that once someone is diagnosed they no longer can care for themselves. However, this will often depend upon the stage of the disease.
- Early Stage
The term “early stage” refers to individuals of any age who have mild impairment due to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms include forgetfulness, communication difficulties, and changes in mood and behavior. People in this stage retain many of their capabilities and require minimal assistance. They may have insight into their changing abilities, and, therefore, can inform others of their experience of living with the disease and help to plan and direct their future care. Please note that the term “early stage” refers to people of any age who have mild impairments as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. This differs from the term “early onset” which refers to people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at a younger age than usual.
- Middle Stage
This stage brings a greater decline in the person’s cognitive and functional abilities. Memory and other cognitive abilities will continue to deteriorate although people at this stage may still have some awareness of their condition. Assistance with many daily tasks will become necessary.
- Late Stage
In this stage, the person eventually becomes unable to communicate verbally or look after themselves. Care is required 24 hours a day. The goal of care at this stage is to continue to support the person to ensure the highest quality of life possible.
Many people fail to recognize that with good care, people may live 15 to 20 years with the disease, most of that time at home. According to Dr. Amanda G. Smith, medical director of the Alzheimer’s Institute of the University of South Florida Health,“even if someone doesn’t recognize a spouse as specifically their spouse, there is often a familiarity with that person and a feeling of comfort, especially if they have been married for decades.”
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Robertson’s comment, it has been useful in reminding Americans of the importance of learning about this disease which will affect so many seniors. Statements based upon misconceptions are common but there are significant resources available to learn more or to seek assistance if you are dealing with a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association website at http://www.alz.org/dsw/in_my_community_15668.asp is a great place to find support groups, information, and further resources available in Southern Nevada.
The first multi-site clinical trial in the United States aimed at trying to identify Alzheimer’s disease through an inexpensive blood test will be directed by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.
While the disease is in its early stages, family and friends can help a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s complete important documents and make legal plans. It’s important however to put these legal documents in place as soon as possible. Our Elder Law attorneys focus on the special legal needs of the elderly and can help you and your loved ones with the important legal steps in order to bring peace of mind and save your family members from further complications down the road.
Our Las Vegas Elder Law Attorneys are here to help you with these difficult issues. Our attorneys counsel our clients about planning for the future and assist you in making plans for finances, property related issues, and decision-making on behalf of the loved one diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s”. Our Elder Law attorneys can also assist in planning for possible long-term care needs, including selection of an appropriate assisted living care facility, and review of care facility contracts.
Allow us to assist in caring for your loved one by calling an experienced Elder Law attorney at 702-798-4955.