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Reciprocal Agreements

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Caregiver’s roles are many and tasks to complete are overwhelming. Why would it seem out of the ordinary to give us one more role or task?. And with all the medical, legal and family information why would it seem out of the ordinary to have just one more in that category? Caregiver’s and in particular, family caregiver’s are in need of help, this help may not come from the legal community. This is not their fault, for as they will tell us, ‘this is a legal document and was signed by a cognitively alert person’.

Here is our problem; so many times the caregiver is the spouse of the one receiving care. Even when the recipient of the care is residing in a skilled nursing facility (even for dementia care), they may still be in control of life or death questions of their caregiver, a family member! There are more times than anyone wants to count when spouses have reciprocal agreements for a medical power of attorney. And this was fine when drawn up, however no one has looked at them in years. Now we are at the emergency room and the caregiver has had a heart attack or other life threatening event; the person in charge of the decisions for medical treatment is the partner suffering from a dementia and does not even recognize their spouse.

Sounds like something out of a bad movie, but happens every day. We need to take a second look at those legal instruments. We have to protect ourselves and make sure the legal documentation does just that. These documents can be revoked by the person with cognitive ability; unfortunately they cannot be revoked by the person with dementia. We (the caregivers) must try to keep ourselves as clear thinking as possible. The best of all world’s would be if all this legal stuff was taken care of at the time we became aware of the dementia, however it is usually in the back of our mind as we try to consider this devastating diagnosis we have just been handed. Family members must try to step up and help out, and if that means taking this discussion out and putting it on the table; that is exactly what needs to happen. Caregivers have enough, the family members need to help us out. Family members must uphold the decision of the caregiver when at all possible. We need that oversight, to help us through.

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