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Most elderly people with dementia do not know they have it

Dementia is very common, impacting roughly 5.7 million Americans, per a report from 2018. However, experts warn that only about 50 percent of the people who have it have actually gone to the doctor to get a diagnosis. The other half are simply living with it, unaware. Of course, as the disease progresses, many of those with a diagnosis could also become unaware that they have it.

Estate planning

As you can imagine, this can definitely play into estate planning and end-of-life care planning. Is a will valid if the person who wrote it had undiagnosed dementia at the time? Can they accurately prepare for the medical care they need if they have a degenerative brain disease? Does a diagnosis call any past planning into question, as they may have had the disease for an unknown amount of time before they got the diagnosis?

"There is a huge population out there living with dementia who don't know about it," said a professor from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The implications are potentially profound for health care planning and delivery, patient-physician communication and much more."

With the rates of dementia as high as they are, this is something every elderly person needs to consider when doing estate planning, and it's also something family members need to keep in mind after the person has passed away, if they have questions about the will or the overall plan.

Risk factors

The study did find some risk factors that make it more likely for problems to crop up. For instance, those who do not have a diagnosis at all are:

  • Likely to have fewer symptoms that impair daily functions
  • More likely to have a Hispanic heritage
  • Likely to go to their doctors' visits on their own
  • Likely to have a level of education that ended without a high school graduation

Those who appear more likely to have dementia and not understand that they actually have it are:

  • Likely to have fewer symptoms that impair daily functions
  • Likely to have a low education level
  • Likely to go to their doctors' visits on their own

Of course, these are just risk factors and should not stereotype any particular group. They also do not mean that someone who has a high level of education and goes to doctors' visits with a loved one cannot run into the same issues. It's simply more likely for some groups than others.

Family rights

If you have a loved one with dementia, no matter where you are in this process, make sure you know how it may impact their estate plan and your family's rights.

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