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How can Michigan residents prepare for future health problems?

Previously on this blog, we discussed recent headway in Alzheimer's research that could result in improved medical treatment. And since the percentage of people in Michigan who are 65 or older is greater than the national average, many readers in the Detroit area who are doing estate planning may be interested in a more recent report by the Alzheimer's Association.

The report, which is titled "2012 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures," states that of the 5.4 million people in the country living with Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia, approximately 800,000 are living alone. According to the report, most of these 800,000 people are older women who are at an early or mild stage of the illness.

Alzheimer's disease -- the most common form of impairment under the umbrella term "dementia" -- is known to gradually worsen individuals' ability to remember new information, personal relationships, and even how to speak and write. So it isn't hard to imagine how this condition could leave someone in a bad situation in which bills become overdue, bank accounts are overdrawn, and important medication is forgotten.

Considering such a situation also helps people see why it is important to incorporate powers of attorney and health care directives into an estate plan. For example, Michigan residents can designate a medical power of attorney, also known as a "patient advocate." In this case, the estate planner chooses someone to make medical decisions in the event the estate planner becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions.

A medical power of attorney can also be accompanied by an advanced medical directive, more commonly known as a "living will," which communicates to medical professionals which procedures an individual does and does not want to experience if the planner is unable to communicate.

Some conditions that usually occur later in life, such as Alzheimer's disease, have a gradual onset that may allow time for planning. Other illnesses or accidents are sudden and come without warning. In either case, Michigan residents would do well to design a comprehensive estate plan to prepare for the many potential issues associated with advanced age.

Source: MSNBC, "1 in 7 with Alzheimer's or other dementia lives alone, report finds," Brian Alexander, March 8, 2012

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