Representing a Client with Dementia

ElderLawAnswers Podcast Episode 113

In ElderLawAnswers for Attorneys Podcast, Ep. 113, Teepa Snow joins ELA National Director Rebecca A. Hobbs in a refreshingly honest discussion of dementia. Snow is one of the world’s leading advocates and educators for individuals living with dementia. In 2006, Teepa founded Positive Approach, LLC, which offers person-centered training in dementia care and competence in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Elder law attorneys interact daily with individuals who either have a dementia diagnosis or are beginning to exhibit signs of dementia.  Teepa says that people typically believe that dementia is one thing: memory loss. But the reality is that dementia is an umbrella term that now covers approximately 120 forms, causes, and types of dementia.

Teepa explains that when we say someone has dementia, this means four things beyond simple “memory loss.” First, it means that at least two parts of the individual’s brain are actively dying at a rate and at a level where the individual can’t live their lives as they previously did.  Second, what they have is progressive, meaning it is going to spread in the brain. Third, the person has a condition that is not reversible, although symptoms can be delayed in the case of some dementias. Fourth, dementia means that the individual has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. 

Teepa emphasizes the need for an accurate diagnosis. It is important to determine whether the individual received a good evaluation and to make sure that what they have is in fact dementia and not depression or anxiety. Sometimes mental health issues combined with aging are misidentified as dementia.

Teepa discusses the importance of elder law attorneys obtaining  training in recognizing the different types of dementia. She explains the various types, each of which has a distinct symptom profile and requires a different care program and support for the individual. To be effective planners and client communicators, elder law attorneys need to know how to recognize the signs of dementia and be able to identify which type of dementia the person has.

To hear Teepa explain the different types of dementia and tips on knowing whether your client has received a proper diagnosis, click here to listen to the full podcast.

For Part Two of the conversation with Teepa Snow, "Communication Strategies for Attorneys Representing or Interviewing Clients with Dementia," click here.