Does someone you love have Alzheimer’s? Over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and as many as 16 million will have the disease in 2050. Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.. Researchers believe the disease, which damages and kills brain cells, is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in Ohio alone, a total of 28,000 individuals between 65-74 were diagnosed with the disease in 2014, with a 79% increase in Alzheimer’s deaths since 2000.
If you live in Illinois and know someone in the initial stages of Alzheimers, it may be a good time to start thinking about establishing an Illinois Power of Attorney for Healthcare. An early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s allows you to take part in decisions about care, transportation, living options, financial and legal matters. Creating a plan for your future in the early stages of the disease can be empowering and ensure your wishes are met.
During the legal planning process, you may hear the term “legal capacity” as it pertains to your ability to execute (put in place by signing) a legal document. Legal capacity is the ability to understand and appreciate the consequences of one’s actions and to make rational decisions. This term is important to understand because it does have an effect in later stages of the disease, when some important care issues emerge.
The power of attorney (PoA) document allows you (the principal) to name another individual (called an attorney-in-fact or agent) to make financial and other decisions when you are no longer able. A successor agent or agents should also be named in case the original agent you choose is unavailable or unwilling to serve. Power of attorney does not give the person you appoint (agent) the authority to override your decision making. You maintain the right to make your own decisions, as long as you have legal capacity.
A power of attorney for health care allows you to name a health care agent to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able. Health decisions covered by the power of attorney for health care include:
Consent to medical treatment
Refusal or withdrawal of medical treatment
Admittance to or discharge from any hospital, institution, home, residential or nursing facility, treatment center or any other health care institution –
Financial contraction for any type of health care service/facility
Copy of medical records and consent to their disclosure
If you are legally married, your spouse is already designated by law to speak on your behalf if you become incapacitated, unless you choose someone else using a medical power of attorney form. If you are a minor, your parents speak on your behalf by law. If you are a legal guardian for someone, you are legally charged with their decisions for health care. In all other cases, you should choose someone to designate as your Health Care Power of Attorney.
If you did not establish a power of attorney, someone else may have to step in as your guardian (also known as a “conservator” in some U.S. states) to coordinate your care. In this case, the guardian is appointed by a court to make decisions about your care and property. You can avert this by talking about your financial and/or health care decisions ahead of time and involving your family and friends in your plans for the future. You should discuss your wishes regarding care with your chosen agent early and often to make sure that he or she understands them and is willing and able to act on your behalf when the times comes.
For more information about Power of Attorney for Healthcare, consult the Senior Citizens Handbook – Health Care Decisions provided by Illinois Legal Aid. You can also download your IL PoA health care form here.
While talking about and preparing for Alzheimers is difficult, it is important to plan ahead, so that you can help you protect your loved-ones’ rights to have appropriate, ongoing medical care, to be listened to and afforded respect for their feelings and point of view, and to be an ongoing advocate for themselves.