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Guardianship Battles and Star Trek

June 10, 2019 by Etta Hornsteiner in For Individuals, For Professionals, Guardianship, Intellectual Disability, Mental Illness, Power of Attorney

judge with two scales behind him

When I was growing up, one of my favorite shows was Star Trek. So, the news of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura in the television series, caught my attention. The 86-year-old actress was heard screaming for her life in an audio.

“You get your hands off me,” she yells. “You’re trying to get rid of me.”

Nichols was referring to her only child, her son Kyle Johnson. Nichols, who is suffering from dementia, is in a guardianship battle with her son.

According to the CDC, the burden of Alzheimer’s and related dementias is projected to grow to 13.9 million, nearly 3.3 percent of the population in 2060–417 million people.

What do these statistics mean?

They mean guardianship battles such as Nichols’s might become the norm unless we prepare on all fronts.

From the perspective of Nichols…

Nichols is fighting to keep her autonomy.

“I’m the boss of me, Gill [Nichols’s friend and manager], he’s not the boss of me,” Nichols insists, referring to her son.

This is the reason Nego Pile, the guardianship manager of Intervention Associates in Pennsylvania, says guardianship must be the last measure anyone takes:

You’re taking away that person’s autonomy and their individual right to manage their own affairs. And so now with guardianship, you have someone else controlling what that Nichelle Nichols and her guardianship battleperson is going to do, how they do it, and so it’s very serious. It’s a severe measure and a severe step that you take when you presume guardianship because that guardian now controls that person’s finances.

The extent of Nichols’s dementia is the key component in this high-profile case because Nichols must be declared truly incapacitated. Therefore, the medical support and evidence are significant. Nichols’s long-term memory is intact, but her short-term memory is significantly impaired.

From the perspective of the family…

According to Kyle Johnson, he applied for conservatorship of his mother to prevent people from taking advantage of her. Nichols states that she did not give her son permission to do so. Because finances, in particular, are involved, the guardian has to be someone of good character, trustworthy, and capable of being an advocate on behalf of the incapacitated person.

Therefore, the courts in Pennsylvania are the ones to declare a person ‘guardianship worthy’.  The guardian cannot have a criminal history, a history of filing for bankruptcy, or of any kind of financial distress or difficulties.

What should you do if you think your life is or will be impacted by memory loss?

Everybody forgets at times, but when memory loss impacts your life, there is reason to be concerned. Here are some signs of significant memory loss that the Mayo Clinic has listed on its website:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedlyNichelle Nichols and her guardianship battle
  • Forgetting common words when speaking
  • Mixing words up — saying “bed” instead of “table,” for example
  • Taking longer to complete familiar tasks, such as following a recipe
  • Misplacing items in inappropriate places, such as putting a wallet in a kitchen drawer
  • Getting lost while walking or driving in a familiar area
  • Having changes in mood or behavior for no apparent reason

Alzheimer’s is one of the most common causes of dementia.

If you think you might be experiencing memory loss, then seeing a doctor is the first place to start. Complete this doctor’s checklist to help prepare you for your visit.

An early diagnosis can mean:

  1. Receiving medications that can help manage the symptoms.

Some of these symptoms are feelings of anxiety, demotivation, poor concentration and memory loss.

  1. Learning about the disease.

Alzheimer’s Association website is an excellent place for resource and support. The site offers help in learning how to have authentic and caring conversations about common concerns — including driving, doctor visits, and legal and financial planning — when someone begins to show signs of dementia. There is a 24/7 helpline and community resource finder for locating health care professionals.

  1. Taking care of financial and legal matters.

Early detection allows for more input before dementia sets in. Individuals can have a say in the type of care and decisions they want. They can plan for complex legal issues, like guardianship, which can help lessen families’ conflicts.

  1. Exploring at-home care options or care facilities.

There are many different types of care facilities. Plan on visiting some facilities to have an idea what you prefer or want.

  1. Determining the kind of care you would like in the future.

Care is compassionate. Care is a service. Care is an art. There are many facilities and/or organizations that specialize in care. However, professional care management services, like Intervention Associates, specialize in caring for persons with unique challenges. Their professional care managers are social workers with various specialties. One of the most challenging areas of care that they specialize in is guardianship. Their guardianship manager and Elder Law attorney, Nego Pile, highlights this particular feature of the organization in a podcast interview:

A lot of the cases that come to us…are oftentimes situations where there are family arguments and a lot of disagreements and a lot of back and forth that really doesn’t help the incapacitated person or the client that we’re going to work for. And so, oftentimes where family members are battling each other and they have disagreements and there’s little movement to benefit their loved one that’s in need, usually those family members find themselves either before a judge or a court, and we come in and we are able to really stabilize that situation and help the loved one that is in need and get them situated so that they’re getting benefits that really will help them. We communicate with the family so that we can diffuse a lot of the hostility and disagreements and arguments that are flying back and forth.

It sounds like Nichelle Nichols and her son could really benefit with support from Intervention Associates, which functions like a one-stop shop for a person’s care needs. Intervention Associates offers legal advice, service and care. They are particularly equipped to deal with complex cases.

Nichols’s situation may not be unusual for those who dwell in the world where legal matters and care cross paths. However, for those of us who are experiencing the burden of diseases such as Alzheimer’s for the first time or faced with the care of a loved one where guardianship is on the table, preparation, education, and a trusted organization that offers support and care are vital.

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