MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Talks about money and long-term care wishes can be tough enough, but when a loved one is suffering from memory loss, advocates say there is no time to waste.

Retired family physician Paul Quinn and his wife Peg have allowed WCCO-TV to report their journey with Alzheimer’s disease for the last four years. The series continues with four steps to take if you’re noticing a family member having memory lapses.

The Quinn family had tough conversations years ago when Paul’s memory was much better, when he was honest with his wife about his wishes moving forward.

“To get that all lined up before you need it, I think, is very important,” Peg Quinn said.

Linda Lorentzen, chief strategy officer at the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota-North Dakota, shares four steps for estate planning.

“Really, the thing that you need to do is pursue an early diagnosis if anyone is showing any signs of cognitive decline,” Lorentzen said.

Lorentzen says it’s especially important so a patient can fully participate in the conversations. Those talks should center on legal and financial planning, laying out your current budget and projected medical costs for long-term care. Lorentzen believes the entire family should be present for this first step.

“If you have four adult children that live in different parts of the country, you need to bring them all together so everyone is in the same room,” she said.

The second step: Name a power of attorney.

“It is important to designate someone who is aware of your situation and can make decisions for you,” Lorentzen said.

In Minnesota, you don’t need a lawyer to do it. A signed document, witnessed and notarized will do.

Next, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends establishing an advance directive with the focus on medical decisions.

“I think that is the tough part about it, no one has the crystal ball to know how long is the disease going to progress,” Lorentzen said.

On average, a patient will live for four to eight years with the disease. The cost of memory loss care can add up – as much as $5,000 to $7,000 a month in some cases. It’s why the fourth step, selecting an elder law attorney, can help to sort it out to make sure the pieces are in place.

“Sometimes in Minnesota, we aren’t very good at having conversations that are difficult, but in this case in particular because of Alzheimer’s, you really need to have the difficult conversations as early as possible and then you can focus on living,” Lorentzen said.

Paul expressed his wishes early on to stay in his house as long as possible, but Peg admits he can’t stay focused on any project for long.

“Everything’s familiar to both of us and that makes it a lot easier on a day-to-day basis, I think,” Peg said.

Fearing any big change would only make things worse, which is why they agreed years ago to bring in in-home care if it’s ever needed.

“With proper organization, we should be able to manage that,” Peg said.

To learn about free legal aid programs available where you live and how to name a power of attorney, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.

Liz Collin

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