It’s tough getting old. A good portion of my clients in my Estate Planning practice are seniors. They have wonderful stories, they appreciate you “hand-holding” them through a situation, they are happy to have someone just talk to them, and they are dealing with various health challenges. One particular one that is heartbreaking for the elderly person and his/her family is dementia and/or Alzheimer’s. It sort of creeps up on you. One day Mom seemed to just be forgetting a few things here and there. Then all of a sudden, she is constantly repeating everything she says. You ask her what she had for breakfast, and she doesn’t remember. But if you ask her what life was like in her little old town that she grew up in, she would remember vivid details. As a daughter or son dealing with this, it is gut-wrenching, emotional, and confusing as to what to do next.
I have a client named Bob (alias for privacy purposes). He is 76 years old. He is originally from Germany and was a tool maker by trade. He came to the United States long ago, and was working as a truck driver. One night, he almost ran over a boy in a bicycle because he did not see him. Bob was frightened of the “what if”. He started thinking, “why don’t these bicycles have some type of reflective device on them so cars can see them in the dark?” He started “tooling” around and created the first “bike reflector”. He patented the idea, and went to the government officials to see if they could require all manufacturers of bikes to put them in their products. He was successful.
Forty years later, he still has a thriving business that not only makes the bike reflectors, but also the lights on the construction horses you see on the expressway, and also the lights you see on police vehicles. There was a joke about when Bob would see broken lights on the expressway, he would smile, and say, “good, more business.” During the growth of his business, Bob was sharp as a tack, and incredibly charismatic.
I met Bob in January. He still has the charisma. What a delight to chat with him. However, the sharpness is not there. He repeats continuously. He gets confused as to what year it is, how old he is, who his family members are, etc.
Bob’s son, Jim (alias), was concerned of Bob living alone, so he moved him to an Independent Living facility with the ability to increase care as needed. Jim thought he was going to put him in a “safe” environment. Bob moved in September of 2010. Shortly thereafter, he started “talking” to his single next door neighbor, “Sheila.” They started spending a lot of time together. By November, Sheila wrote a letter to the facility personnel that they want to purchase a 2 bedroom unit as “husband and wife”. Jim was concerned and started a Guardianship proceeding.
Bob wants to marry Sheila. Bob thinks she is the only one that is on his side. He thinks Jim is not doing things in his best interests.
This has been a really tough case for everyone involved. I love Bob. He is really a nice guy. I want him to “live” a somewhat normal life. I want him to be friends with anyone he wants, even Sheila. But I don’t want Bob to be taken advantaged of. He worked too hard in his life for one person to just come in and “sweep” him off his feet, only to find her the only beneficiary on his Will when he dies.
The moral of the story is, cherish every moment with your elderly family members. Spend time with them. Ask them for their stories. Learn from their wisdom. Check in on them often. Make sure no one is too “close” to them, particularly a caregiver. If he or she has dementia, talk to an attorney to start a Guardianship. You are there to protect them, especially when they can’t do it for themselves.