Dementia Affects Famous and Everyday People
Jack Hanna, wildlife expert, author, guest TV personality, and TV producer known for starring in shows like Animal Adventures, Voices for Wildlife, and Into the Wild, is retiring from work and public life because he has dementia. Known as “Jungle” Jack, he left the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where he served as director, then director emeritus, for 42 years in December 2020.
His family most recently posted on his verified Twitter account explaining his condition to his many fans. “Doctors have diagnosed our dad, Jack Hanna, with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer’s disease,” further stating, “His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated.”
Jack Hanna lives a healthy, active lifestyle and is currently age 74. Let that sink in.
Worldwide the statistics are not good, and they are not in favor of the average aging American. The Alzheimer’s Association website states that one in three seniors currently dies with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia. In the absence of a medical breakthrough to prevent, slow, or cure Alzheimer’s disease, the predictive numbers will only increase.
By 2050 more than 15 percent, or 12.7 million Americans age 65 or more, will be diagnosed with dementia. There will be still more elderly Americans living with the disease undiagnosed by a medical professional, often due to poverty associated with lack of proper medical care. Living with dementia is not only a challenge to an individual’s daily life, but it is also expensive. When it comes to footing the costly care bill, where does that leave our country, our health care system, our caregivers, our families, and you?
Alzheimer’s and other dementias’ problems are overwhelming in the larger sense, so control what you can. As an individual, create a plan responsive to the changing needs of Alzheimer’s care should you receive the diagnosis. Women, more than men and certain ethnic groups, tend to be hit hardest with the disease. If you fall into these categories, pay special attention to the onset of early symptoms because, as in all diseases, early diagnosis is key to more successful intervention. All individuals should speak with their doctors honestly about any cognitive challenges they experience as they age. The Alzheimer’s Association has a checklist of symptoms that you can use as a starting point.
The early, middle and late stages of Alzheimer’s disease all require different degrees of caregiving as behaviors change in each stage. The one truism is that your caregiving situation will require a team providing support on many levels. Look for community and online community resources. The Alzheimer’s Association also has a Cognitive Impairment Care Planning Toolkit to help define and deliver person-centered care planning.
One of the earliest challenges you will face after a dementia diagnosis is developing or adapting your existing estate plan and advance directives that speak to financial and medical issues. You may have to move to be nearer family members, which can upend your will and other legal documents as they are executed by state authority. Adapting your legal plans early on can protect any challenges by heirs regarding your mental fitness and any estate plan changes. In truth, funding care for a dementia diagnosis can drain your assets to the point where generational wealth no longer exists for your inheritors. You cannot afford to have family challenges to your estate, particularly when you are no longer capable of understanding the scope of the issues due to your dementia.
There is a lot to take in, and much to get done should you receive an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. Even if you do not fall into a high-risk category for dementia, you ignore the possibility of the disease at your peril. Even the seemingly healthiest and most advantaged persons like Jack Hanna can experience the diagnosis and have the disease attack swiftly.
I help families create plans that address long-term care concerns, financial issues such as how to pay for care, and tax issues. Many clients of mine have a dementia diagnosis and we understand the challenges that come with such a diagnosis. I welcome the opportunity to discuss your concerns and your wishes so that they can be properly documented for you and your loved ones.