Local doctor creates the first health care directive for dementia

SEATTLE — So many years later it’s still so hard for Ann Vandervelde to talk about her father’s final days.

“I wanted him to have dignity at the end of his life,” Vandervelde said.

Something that was hard to do because Vandervelde’s father was suffering from dementia.

“At the end of his life the doctor overmedicated him; this would not have happened to my dad if he had those choices early on,” Vandervelde said.

For the first time a local doctor is giving families that choice.

“I’ve been flooded with so many emails,” Dr. Barak Gaster said.

Emails thanking Gaster for creating a health care directive specifically for dementia.

The directive is three pages long. On paper it’s simple enough but it took Gaster years to create it.

He says he consulted with other experts and families suffering from the disease.

“The reality is that the advance directives out there are pretty limited,” Gaster said.

And none deals with dementia.

Gaster realized there was a need after experiencing a growing number of patients suffering from some form of dementia.

The World Health Organization says about 82 million people will get dementia by 2030. The rate of dementia is not growing but there are more cases because people are living longer.

“This form is important but not legally binding,” Gaster said.

But it’s just enough to let your doctor and loved ones know what to do in a medical crisis.

“If somebody with dementia were to have a cardiac arrest, there are many people who say they don’t want to be resuscitated,” Gaster said.

Ann has already filled out the directive; she says it is empowering.

“I don’t want my children to be put in a situation where they have to make some of these medical decisions for me,” Vandervelde said.

Just in case she is struck by the same disease her father had.

A journey so devastating for her entire family, especially for Vandervelde’s mother.

“The grief that she felt, the loss that she felt -- she had that outlet,” Vandervelde said.

That outlet for Vandervelde’s mother was poetry.

Something Vandervelde read aloud to Q13 News during our visit.

“Memories are the only gift I can send you my love I miss you.”

For Vandervelde she is expressing her feelings through art.

“It’s what I am leaving behind really, legacy is really important to me,” Vandervelde said.

To get a copy of the directive, you can get it for free at www.dementia-directive.org.

Nearly 40,0000 people have downloaded a copy in the first two weeks it went online.