When Lesa Abajian-Sullivan’s mother, Marianna (not pictured), was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2008, the Seattle chef understood it to be “an ultimately deleterious condition.” Initially, Marianna seemed relatively well: able to tell time, aware of current events, capable of carrying on a lucid conversation.
“But in time, Dad and I noticed Mom was becoming incontinent, that she was developing hoarding behaviors, that she was cooking but not putting food away, leaving it out to go bad,” Abajian-Sullivan recalls. “In the car, she’d left notes for herself describing how to turn the engine on.”
When Abajian-Sullivan’s father died suddenly in 2014 and responsibility for her mother’s care fell to her, “…that’s when I really understood how bad it was.” Combing through her mother’s multiple versions of wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, Abajian-Sullivan “…found the most legally binding documents and took them to our family law attorney to be declared her legal guardian. And once her physician legally declared her incapacitated, the attorney filed that. That’s when I became her decision maker.”
Complex decision making
While Abajian-Sullivan was able to make her way toward a straightforward legal ruling, a loved one’s diagnosis of dementia brings in its wake a complex decision-making process. Few individuals make decisions entirely on their own, and the interests of caregivers—typically a spouse or adult child—are at stake, too.
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