If you are concerned about what to do if you or a loved one is starting to experience memory loss or a decline in decision-making capacity, here are a few suggestions:
- Act quickly, and act early. In most cases, individuals experience a gradual decline in their decision-making capacity over an extended period of time. If you are starting to struggle with some of the decisions you are being asked to make, reach out for help, but from trusted sources. Communicate with your doctor, financial advisors and family members about the challenges you are experiencing so that you can get the type of help you need. It’s important for those in your close circle to understand that you are starting to struggle, so that they know that you may need more assistance with more complex decisions. It will also alert them to be on the lookout for financial abuse, as individuals who suffer from dementia are more likely to be the victim of scams.
- Communicate your limits and your abilities. Decision-making capacity is very time and situation specific. Although you may no longer have the ability to make complex decisions, you may still have capacity to make simple decisions. Tell your advisors and doctors which decisions you are struggling with, and when you need help. Understand that simply asking for help in some circumstances does not mean that you will not be able to make any decisions on your own.
- Review your overall financial plan. Speak to your financial planner to ensure that your plan is up to date. Explain that you are having difficulty making complex decisions. Your advisor may recommend moving to a more conservative portfolio, or consolidating your investments so you have fewer accounts or different types of property to worry about (for example, businesses or real estate). Your IG Consultant can help you to find ways to simplify your investments and help you manage your assets for as long as you are capable of doing so.
- Maximize the use of available tax credits. As your condition progresses, you may be able to claim various tax credits, including the disability tax credit, the medical expense tax credit and the caregiver tax credit. Speak to a tax accountant or your IG Consultant about which credits you may qualify for, and what you need to do in order to be eligible to claim them on your tax return.
- Consider whether your wishes are properly documented. Ensure that your estate plan is up to date. In the early stages, you may still have capacity to sign documents like a will, power of attorney or protection mandate (in Quebec), but that may no longer be the case as time goes on. Speak to a well qualified estates lawyer (preferably someone who has their TEP or “Trusts and Estate Practitioner”) designation about how to best protect yourself in the event you suffer a serious decline in your decision-making capacity. Although it is always important to have these documents in place, the issue will become even more acute as your mental capacity starts to decline. Under no circumstances would “do it yourself” kits or online documents be recommended. Understand that if you complete the documentation incorrectly, your family will not be able to correct it after you no longer have sufficient capacity to do it yourself.
- Build a network to provide you with support. Reach out to associations like the Alzheimer’s Society for support. These groups have extensive experience in supporting individuals through various challenges and can help you to prepare for what may come next. Knowing that you’re not alone can help to bring peace of mind.
The onset of dementia can be a difficult experience, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Reach out to your close network and confide in your close advisors to get the support you need to live your life to the fullest.