Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Guardianship

Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease, and GuardianshipGuest Contributor is Jennifer Carter MPP, Alzheimer’s Association, MA.

1. What is dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease but an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms and conditions. Dementia is associated with a decline in memory, thinking skills, and communication severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. There are many types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body disease,  Frontotemporal Dementia and others.

2. What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms start slowly and gradually worsen over time. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals may lose the ability to perform self-care tasks, communicate effectively with others, and respond to their environment. There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. A clinician can diagnose dementia and Alzheimer s based on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behaviors.

3. Why is early detection of dementia so important?

Early detection with a comprehensive medical evaluation is important to identify the specific type of dementia, get appropriate care, and maximize the benefits from available treatments that may provide some relief of some symptoms and maintain a level of independence longer.

Early detection is also important to plan for future health care needs. If an person retains legal capacity when diagnosed, he or she can sign a Health Care Proxy and a Durable Power of Attorney appointing a trusted person to make health and financial decisions on their behalf  at the time of future incapacity.  If the person does not have legal capacity to make or communicate effective decisions at the time of diagnosis, and did not previously appoint a trusted person, a guardianship can be considered to safeguard the adult’s independence and provide for necessary services. Guardianship is a legal process where the court can appoint a person as Guardian to make some or all medical and personal decisions for an incapacitated adult. The guardianship can be limited by the court to protect the adult’s legal rights to the fullest extent, and limit the Guardian’s decision-making powers to only the areas where the adult is impaired.

4.  Where can I find resources and support for the person caring for an adult with dementia?

A person with dementia will eventually need assistance with daily living. Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be a large undertaking, but there is a network of support and help available. You can read more about what to expect and links to helpful resources including a Helpline and support groups at ‘The Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver’s Center’, at www.

5. Where can I find more information and help?

For more information on Dementia and Alzheimer’s, go to the Alzheimer’s Association website,

Jennifer Carter MPP, is the Manager of Public Policy, Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts/ New Hampshire Chapter, Watertown, MA.

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