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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published May 11 2008

Take some steps early to cope with Alzheimer’s

Dear Carol: My mother is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. I know there are many levels of care in the metro area. How does a person decide what kind of care is needed at what time? – Glen

Dear Glen: Alzheimer’s has a somewhat predictable path, however, each person with the disease travels the path at his or her own rate. In other words, no one can give you a map. It’s smart to make plans while your mother is still in relatively good health.

First, make sure she has all of her legal paperwork in order. If she doesn’t, you should go with her to see an estate attorney. She will need a will and a power of attorney for financial affairs. She’ll also need a health directive so. as her Alzheimer’s worsens, the person she chooses to represent her can make health decisions for her.

You’ll want to talk with her about her care preferences. Do not, however, back yourself into a corner by making promises you may not be able to keep. Many people find themselves swamped with guilt because they promised never to put a loved one in a nursing home. They then find themselves in a situation where a nursing home is the only option for the health and safety of the elder.

It’s a struggle for us all to make a decision to place loved ones in a care center, but if you promise them you won’t, and then must, you are going to endure even more grief.

Do, however, talk with your mother about her choices and how, together, you will approach changes in her health.

You may want to start with daily in-home care for just a few hours. Each service is a bit different, so you’ll want to look into several options. As with all assistance, ask for references.

As an alternative to in-home care (or in addition to it), there is adult day care, also known as day services. Maybe your mother will do well with in-home help weekends and day services during the week. The combination can give her needed social stimulation as well as take care of her personal needs and safety. Like in-home care, adult day services can be very different from one another. Check out several to find a good fit.

The next step in care would be assisted living. Many elders who are in their own homes fight the move to assisted living. However, an elder alone at home can get depressed and lonely. Once elders adjust to a good assisted living center, they often love it. They make new friends, take part in activities and, of course, have someone checking on their welfare.

When medical issues become too much for assisted living, your mother may need a nursing home. We have many excellent homes in the metro area. Again, start early so you can tour several. You’ll feel much better knowing you’ve done your homework.

Glen, it’s smart to have a plan. There will still be surprises and questions, but you will at least know what the options are. For more information and support, go to the Alzheimer’s Association Web site at www.alzmndak.org/or call their help line at (800) 272-3900.

To submit questions to “Minding Our Elders” and view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at cbursack@forumcomm.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.