Monday 16th May marks the start of Dementia Action Week. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently around 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK. As dementia tends to affect people over the age of 65 (although it can also start at a younger age) the number of people affected by dementia is projected to reach nearly 1.6 million by 2040 due to the UK’s ageing population.
This year’s theme for Dementia Action Week is diagnosis, after the Alzheimer’s Society found that dementia diagnosis rates have fallen to a five-year low. The Society found that many people receive a late diagnosis simply out of denial and misinformation about ageing and memory loss. If someone close to you is experiencing changes such as significant memory loss, confusion, or language difficulties, it is a good idea to visit a GP for an assessment. More information can be found on the Alzheimer’s Society website.
Receiving a dementia diagnosis can be a very difficult experience. Not being able to remember things and feelings of confusion can be frightening and isolating for the person affected, and those around them can feel frustrated and worried for the future. Yet the Alzheimer’s Society found that 91% of people affected by dementia still believe it is better to know the diagnosis than not. The sooner you have a diagnosis, the sooner you can take control of the things that matter.
Acting on a dementia diagnosis means making decisions for the future. This includes making arrangements for comfortable and easy daily living, finding resources for staying independent, planning for additional care, and securing financial and legal situations.
Although it is daunting, it is important for those affected to make legal arrangements while they still have mental capacity. A dementia diagnosis does not mean that mental capacity is lost, but time is of the essence. Often mental capacity is fluid, and those affected will have good days and bad days, but if those affected become unable to make certain decisions for themselves, there may come a time when no one can legally make those decisions without the proper legal tools. This can lead to a lengthy and costly process for loved ones in the Court of Protection.
The Alzheimer’s Society advises setting up a lasting power of attorney (LPA), which is a legal tool that lets those affected choose one person or multiple people to be “attorneys” while they still have mental capacity (which means understanding what an LPA is). When those affected are no longer able, attorneys can make decisions on their behalf, depending on how they have been appointed. They can be appointed on a jointly only basis where all must agree, jointly and severally where only one needs to make a decision, or jointly for some decisions and jointly and severally for others. Replacement attorneys can also be appointed. There are two different types of LPA: one that deals with your property and financial affairs and one that deals with your health and welfare needs.
The LPA helps those affected stay in control and stay “themselves” by ensuring their future is based on pre-agreed wishes. When making an LPA, they can think about what matters to them, and ensure their wishes and future decisions are clear to family and those who will be around to look after them.
The LPA is the best and easiest way to guarantee the decisions made about a person’s future. When people are not able to set up an LPA, and later become unable to make their own decisions, no-one else is legally able to make decisions such as paying bills, care costs, and making choices about future care options. In these cases, a family member or carer needs to apply to the Court of Protection to become a deputy.
The process of becoming a deputy is expensive, time-consuming, and impersonal, as the deputy is chosen by the court, not by the affected person. The deputy is also responsible for other tasks such as paying an annual fee and submitting an annual report. This means it is usually cheaper and easier for someone to be an attorney rather than a deputy. It is also unusual for a deputy to be appointed to deal with decisions about health and welfare. A deputy is normally only appointed to deal with property and finances, meaning healthcare professionals have the final say on care.
The Wills & Probate Team at Hodge Jones & Allen are experienced in helping people diagnosed with dementia and their families through discussions about what to include in an LPA. They understand the importance of making arrangements that put power back into the hands of those affected. In addition to LPAs, they can also draft and update wills, support with making advance statements to allow refusal of certain medical treatments and express preferences about your future care. They work to ensure that things that are important to you are not forgotten.
Rafael Singer, Senior Associate at Hodge Jones & Allen