The heartbreaking illness affects both men and women (though women have a slightly higher risk for developing the disease; more on gender differences later). Regardless of gender, and despite the challenges, expenses, and worries associated with the disease, there is something families can do to instill a degree of order and confidence amidst the turmoil. Alzheimer’s is the 7th leading cause of death; to ease the burdens and simplify the unique challenges patients face, some Elder Law Attorneys offer a service called, “Alzheimer’s Planning.”
Alzheimer’s Planning is a sub-specialty of Elder Law. It involves a unique and complex combination of estate planning, long-term care planning, asset protection, Medicaid planning, and nursing home planning, and requires a specialized knowledge of the legal and financial problems and issues that are unique to families dealing with this devastating illness.
One of the primary goals of Alzheimer’s Planning is to ensure the highest possible level of personal dignity and quality care for the remaining lifetime of the Alzheimer’s patient. To achieve this goal, it is often necessary to protect assets as quickly as possible, so that if the Alzheimer’s patient must enter a nursing home, Medicaid can be obtained as soon as possible. Money that is protected through Alzheimer’s Planning can be used to provide the Alzheimer’s patient with an enhanced level of care and a better quality of life while in the nursing home and receiving Medicaid benefits.
Sixty-five percent of Alzheimer patients are women and researchers estimate that one in six women are at risk for developing the disease during their lifetime. Why does this disease affect more women than men? Researchers have only recently begun to identify the connection between estrogen and the risk of the disease in women – a theory that might explain the disproportionate number of women with Alzheimer’s.
It is theorized that the hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain that succumbs to the disease. When healthy, this vital section of the brain organizes and consolidates both short and long-term memory and can be thought of as our natural compass (i.e., for spatial navigation)
The hippocampus is one of the main "receptor sites" in the brain for estrogen, and when it is stimulated by receipt of estrogen, positive brain processes are activated. Estrogen levels are also thought to be positively correlated to certain key neurotransmitters associated with positive mood. When a woman enters menopause and her estrogen levels drop, the hippocampus (and all of its important memory functions) is thereby activated less often.
What role, if any, can hormone replacement play in preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? Do the risks outweigh the benefits? Luckily, these are questions that neuroscientists are hoping to have answers to within the next 5 years, thanks to the recent explosion of estrogen-related research currently underway.
Where should families turn for Alzheimer’s Planning Services? Persons with Alzheimer’s disease and their families face special legal and financial needs. Controlling the high costs of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, and navigating the emotionally and physically demanding requirements of caregiving, require the assistance of a highly skilled and specialized expert in the field of Alzheimer’s Planning. Scheduling a consultation with a trusted Certified Elder Law Attorney* is an excellent place to start!
Disclaimer: *Virginia has no procedure for approving certifying organizations
ScienceDaily.com, available at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080318114824.htm);CBCNews.ca, available at http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2011/04/06/aging-women-brain-estrogen.html); Alzheimer’s Reading Room, available at http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2010/07/estrogen-dilemma-and-alzheimers-disease.html).
Images: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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