The impact of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s – a family’s perspective

My dad was 57 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  Even though he had suffered with memory problems for a number of years, the doctors had initially ruled out dementia – they thought my Dad was too young – we all thought so too.

After seeing different specialists, undergoing numerous tests and receiving many different professional opinions, my Dad eventually received the formal diagnosis that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia where brain cells are damaged by abnormal proteins and it is one of the most common causes of dementia.  The first thing many people notice is when they have difficulty with short-term memory. Gradually other symptoms creep in, such as difficulty finding the right words and with problem-solving and then making even apparently simple decisions.  In our case, dad suffered problems with his short term memory,  such as forgetting where he had put things and what he had eaten for lunch.

We didn’t know very much about Alzheimer’s disease at the time and so the diagnosis was a distressing time for the whole family.  We have always been a very close, so we have all pulled together to help out where we could.  It is terribly difficult to watch someone you love, suffer from this terrible disease. It is equally upsetting to see how it affects others, particularly our mum.  The diagnosis has affected her life as well as my dad’s.

Initially it was difficult to know where to look for help, but once we started to look, we realised that there are a lot of agencies who were willing and able to provide assistance where they could.  The Alzheimer’s Society was really helpful and provided a number of fact sheets and gave invaluable additional advice on their website.

Mum and dad have attended a number of dementia groups and drop in cafes.  They found the informal setting and friendly calm of the volunteers really helpful.   Carers UK have been great, they helped our mum make the transition from her decision to leave work through to becoming a full-time carer for dad.

As I am a solicitor, it was slightly easier for us than most families. I knew we needed to plan for the future and that there were legal implications and I had could turn to my colleagues in the Private Client team for immediate help and advice. My parents came in for their appointment with a solicitor in the Birchall Blackburn Law Private Client team.  Everything was explained in a sympathetic and straightforward way that was easy for mum and dad to take in.  After weighing up all the options they decided to make new will and also to draw up a Lasting Power of Attorney.  This means that our mum, my two sisters and I can help our dad to make decisions, or to make decisions for him if he can’t make them himself.

My legal background meant that accessing the legal system was easy but most families are not always so fortunate. If you are unfamiliar with the legal processes and the implications of a diagnosis of dementia, it can feel like you are entering a legal maze, at a time when you just want support and clear advice. What will happen if your loved one has to go into a care home in the future?   What happens if they can’t make important decisions for themselves?

My dad is still in the early stages of the disease and is still able to decide most things himself, but there are decisions that you can’t leave until it is too late, such as making a Lasting Power of Attorney or a Will.

Even for those who do not suffer with dementia, these are important legal steps. But I suppose when dementia becomes part of the equation, it becomes even more important to get things sorted as soon as possible.

I know that having had the right legal advice won’t stop this terrible disease for my Dad, but I know it was important to him to know that he has done everything possible to make it easier for my mum and our family to cope in the future.

For more advice on any of these issues, please call us on 0800 614 722 or pop in to one of our offices to make an appointment.