Laurie Scherrer, 55, a hardworking sales executive, found herself forgetting customers and unable to perform simple math calculations. She was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia, which causes deterioration in behavior and ability to understand language.
Ms. Scherrer gave herself some time to feel sorry for herself, then took action. Knowing that her life now had limits, time became more precious. “I began to appreciate the joy and beauty around me,” she said. Ms. Scherrer knew that she still had plenty of time to live–and thrive–with Alzheimer’s.
Creating a team of professionals became an immediate priority
As part of her planning, Ms. Scherrer began to research dementia. She found a group called Dementia Mentors, and joined the group’s virtual memory café. The format: Nine or so people, each in a box on a screen, shared strategies to ease symptoms, medication tips and learn from each other. She learned to avoid those things that caused confusion, to celebrate her achievements and to savor the good things in her life.
Those with Alzheimer’s can still lead fulfilling lives and plan for the future
Ms. Scherrer has gotten involved in the Alzheimer’s community. As a member of the advisory board of the Dementia Action Alliance, she speaks at conferences of policymakers and neurologists. She contributes suggestions for better, more sensitive, care. Her advocacy could help other baby boomers who are reaching the age when the risk for dementia rises. The number of people with Alzheimer’s who are 65 or older is projected to climb to 7.1 million in 2025 and 13.8 million in 2050, up from 5.5 million today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Among challenges for families: Assessing ability to understand and sign legal documents
A challenging question for families is whether the person with dementia can understand and sign legal documents. Even mildly impaired persons may need to be carefully evaluated.
An Advance Healthcare Directive provides guidance on end-of-life treatment. A person with dementia may live for a long time after a diagnosis, and instructions could include details for caregivers, and how and where patients choose to spend their final days. Ms. Scherrer has directed her Agents to withhold treatment, under certain circumstances, for serious illnesses like cancer.
The economics of long-term care
Evaluating assets to pay for long-term care also becomes a priority. Patients go through different levels of care, and there are different costs associated with each level. Medicaid, which is financed by state and federal governments, pays for care for people with limited assets, though state laws differ. The Scherrers expect to sell their four-bedroom house, which they no longer need. A smaller place would be easier to manage and free up cash for long-term care. Ms. Scherrer has looked at assisted living facilities, though members of her family have promised to care for her at home for as long as possible.
Another challenge: Dealing with the loneliness of Alzheimer’s
People with dementia stress the importance of developing social connections. Communicating with others who still engage in hobbies, sports and other activities keeps patients from feeling isolated. Many chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association offer early-stage support groups where individuals and caregivers can socialize.
Ms. Scherrer has created and signed her legal documents and made financial plans
The article about Ms. Scherrer, by Susan B. Garland in The New York Times, provides an insight into how life-altering a dementia diagnosis can be—especially at the age of 55. Yet dementia can be a slow-moving disease, and Ms. Scherrer knows she’s lucky to be surrounded by a supportive family. She’s making the most of the time she has left and knows that each day is a blessing.