For more than 12 years, Decades has provided trusted professional guardianship and conservatorship services. A conservatorship is established by the courts with a conservator appointed to manage and protect the financial interests of an individual, determined by the court to lack the capacity to make their own financial decisions. Incapacitated individuals who did not previously establish a Durable Power of Attorney may require conservatorship. One such form of incapacity can arise from extreme cases of Parkinson’s Disease.
When actor Michael J. Fox developed Parkinson’s disease, it threw a spotlight on this neurodegenerative disorder. And, since 1983, April is the month when awareness about it is especially high, geared towards education, care and fundraising.
I say ‘education and care’ because, despite significant research, there is no cure. Treatment options vary and include medications and surgery. And, while Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, disease complications can be serious. As I wrote above, its impact goes beyond motor functions, possibly into mental impairment, leading to the need for a conservatorship protecting the financial assets of the affected individual. And, beyond that, complications from PD is the 14th cause of death in the United States (according to the Centers for Disease Control).
The progression of symptoms differs from one person to another and can slowly develop over years. People with PD may experience:
• Tremor, mainly at rest and described as ‘pill rolling’ tremor in hands.
• Bradykinesia – slow movement
• Limb rigidity
• Gait and balance problems
As with many things, the first step to living well with Parkinson’s
Disease is to understand it and its progression. In fact, it is possible to have a good to great quality of life with PD. Working with your doctor and following recommended therapies are essential to successfully treat symptoms, using dopaminergic medications (meant to increase levels of dopamine in the brain). People with PD need this medication because they have low levels or are missing dopamine in the brain.
Ironically, while we often associate Parkinson’s with obvious tremors and changes in movement, these symptoms are ‘late bloomers’, showing up long after the disease has taken hold in the brain. For that reason, scientists are exploring ways to identify biomarkers for PD that can lead to earlier diagnosis and more tailored treatments, thus slowing down the disease’s progression. Currently, all therapies used for PD improve its symptoms without slowing or halting the disease itself.
So, how can you tell if you or a loved one has Parkinson’s disease before it has advanced to a life-altering stage?
Below are 10 signs that you might have the disease. No single one of these means that you should worry, but if you have more than one sign you should consider making an appointment to talk to your doctor.
Have you noticed a slight shaking or tremor in your finger, thumb, hand or chin? A tremor while at rest is a common early sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Has your handwriting gotten much smaller than it was in the past? You may notice the way you write words on a page has changed, such as letter sizes are smaller and the words are crowded together. A change in handwriting may be a sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Loss of Smell
Have you noticed you no longer smell certain foods very well? If you seem to have more trouble smelling foods like bananas, dill pickles or licorice, you should ask your doctor about Parkinson’s.
Do you thrash around in bed or act out dreams when you are deeply asleep? Sometimes, your spouse will notice or will want to move to another bed. Sudden movements during sleep may be a sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Trouble Moving or Walking
Do you feel stiff in your body, arms or legs? Have others noticed that your arms don’t swing like they used to when you walk? Sometimes stiffness goes away as you move. If it does not, it can be a sign of Parkinson’s disease. An early sign might be stiffness or pain in your shoulder or hips. People sometimes say their feet seem “stuck to the floor.”
Do you have trouble moving your bowels without straining every day? Straining to move your bowels can be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease and you should talk to your doctor.
A Soft or Low Voice
Have other people told you that your voice is very soft or that you sound hoarse? Sometimes you might think other people are losing their hearing, when really you are speaking more softly.
Have you been told that you have a serious, depressed or mad look on your face, even when you are not in a bad mood? This is often called facial masking.
Dizziness or Fainting
Do you notice that you often feel dizzy when you stand up out of a chair? Feeling dizzy or fainting can be a sign of low blood pressure and can be linked to Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Stooping or Hunching Over
you not standing up as straight as you used to? If you or your family or friends notice that you seem to be stooping, leaning or slouching when you stand, it could be a sign of Parkinson’s disease (PD).
And, while all these symptoms relate to physical appearance and behaviors, Parkinson’s poses the chance of cognitive decline as well.
When an adult fails to do his or her estate planning and then later becomes incapacitated, as can happen with Parkinson’s Disease, it may be necessary for the court to step in and place the adult under the care of another. This is called a guardianship. If the adult has financial assets, a conservatorship may also be needed. Conservators are assigned by the court to oversee the financial assets of an adult who can no longer manage those assets. The role of guardian and conservator can be served by the same person or separate individuals as appropriate.
Of course, incapacity often occurs from cognitive decline through dementia – perhaps Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease – but can also be a result of trauma, mental illness, and disease, most frequent of which is stroke.
A court determines if an adult is incapacitated by considering whether the adult is capable of effectively receiving and evaluating information about her/his health, well-being, and finances. Any physical or mental decline that results in the adult being unable to provide for his or her own health, safety, and medical and financial needs may give rise to a guardianship and conservatorship. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably yet can also be defined for a single aspect of living, such as conservatorship of the person or conservatorship of the estate.
It is important to note that with advance proper planning, including the execution of a properly drafted advance medical directive (also known as a living will) and a durable power of attorney, a guardianship (and conservatorship) can almost always be avoided.
For more information about any of the varied forms of legal protections mentioned here, we welcome your call, no obligation is implied:
Celebrating Decades: The 60’s
Is it ironic that the Older Americans Act, part of President Johnson’s Great Society reforms, was passed in the 60’s on behalf of Americans in their 60’s? Re-authorized in 2020, it includes provisions for social and nutritional support through nearly 60 state agencies and 20,000 service providers. If you or a loved one seeks support with any needs related to aging, you can learn more here. And, of course, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Decades Group for any healthcare or financial decisions associated with aging.
Celebrating 2 Decades of Service in the New Mexico Community:
The Parkinson’s Foundation
Administration for Community Living
American Parkinson Disease Association
Michael J. Fox Foundation