Dementia is a devastating disease that robs people of their cognitive health. As the disease progresses, a person with dementia will gradually lose their ability to remember. Eventually, they will be unable to make important decisions about their end-of-life care, and the responsibility will likely fall on their family.

It’s hard to watch a loved one’s memory fade. Making decisions about their medical care can put tremendous pressure on families—especially if their loved one never discussed their preferences. One of the best ways to honor their wishes is by creating a living will before the disease is too advanced.

What Is a Living Will?

A living will, often referred to as an advance health care directive, documents a person’s wishes for end-of-life care. It will only go into effect if their disease progresses to the point where they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

How to Make a Living Will for a Loved One with Dementia

By documenting a loved one’s values and wishes, a living will can spare family members from having to make difficult medical decisions about their care. Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Start the conversation.

The first step to creating a living will for a loved one with dementia is to start talking to them about their preferences and values. Be sure to cover topics like:

  • The use of CPR if their heart stops beating
  • The use of a ventilator if they need breathing assistance
  • The use of a feeding tube or IV
  • Comfort care, which includes anything that relieves suffering, such as medications and managing shortness of breath

Take time to understand the reasoning behind their preferences. Doing so will make it easier to make decisions on their behalf.

Step 2: Hire an elder law attorney.

Since laws vary by state, it’s usually a good idea to hire an elder law attorney. They will be able to guide you through the process, in addition to educating you about your state laws and the types of decisions you may have to make. A lawyer will also help you avoid complications down the road.

Step 3: Talk with the senior’s physician.

To make a will or any other legal document, the person with dementia must have the legal capacity to do so. A lawyer will likely advise you to have your loved one checked by a doctor. The physician will be able to write a note confirming your loved one’s mental fitness.

Step 4: Document their wishes and give out copies.

Once your loved one decides their preferences, document them. Give a copy to anyone it may affect or who can help ensure it is carried out. This includes family members, lawyers, doctors, and other health care providers. If your loved one lives in a senior community, make sure their management has a copy as well.

Step 5: Revisit the will.

One of the most comforting things about a living will is that it’s not permanent. Your loved one can change the document as often as they would like. It’s recommended that they revisit the document as circumstances change.

Struggling to Get Started

If you are struggling to talk to your senior loved one about end-of-life care, try asking for advice from an expert. Senior care advisors, like those at SeniorHousingNet, are great resources for sensitive topics like advance care planning. They can give you advice on what to discuss and recommend local memory care communities. Call 800-304-8061 to talk with an advisor for free.


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