The key principles of the Mental Capacity Act create a framework to encourage and support people to maintain their independence for as long as possible. Our Court of Protection team works with clients to help achieve exactly this. Whilst there is a range of different circumstances in which an individual is unable, or may become unable, to manage their own affairs, it is dementia that is affecting a growing number of people. Currently, 850,000 people in the UK live with dementia, and this is expected to rise to 1 million people by 2025.
Many of our clients are either directly or indirectly affected by dementia, and therefore in August this year, 15 of us attended a Dementia Friends information session; an Alzheimer’s Society initiative that aims to change the perception of and improve society’s understanding of dementia. It is important to us that we know how to best support any client with this diagnosis.
What is dementia?
We understand that a diagnosis of dementia does not mean the same thing for everybody and although there may be two people living with the same diagnosis, they may have very different experiences. We aim to treat each client as the unique individual they are, recognising their specific needs and circumstances.
Dementia is a term used to describe the symptoms that arise as a result of damage caused by diseases of the brain. Whilst most people associate dementia with old age and memory loss, this is not always the case – the symptoms will depend on the specific disease of the brain. One person living with dementia may experience difficulties with memory or perception, another person may have difficulty with communication or orientation; it all depends on which disease is causing the damage and which part of the brain is affected. Most people are familiar with the most common type of dementia; Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are many more – vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies, to name just a few.
In addition to cognitive symptoms, people living with dementia often demonstrate changes in personality, becoming frustrated or anxious. This is exaggerated by a feeling of isolation and exclusion from society. Initiatives such as Dementia Friends and the increasing number of support groups will hopefully ensure as many people with dementia as possible feel supported and understood, rather than lonely and isolated.
How does dementia affect our clients?
A diagnosis of dementia does not automatically mean a person has lost the mental capacity to make their own decisions. The diseases that result in dementia are often present long before symptoms are spotted, or there is a diagnosis. Each person is individual and unique; responding differently to dementia. It is important to remember that, with the help and support of family, friends and professionals, many people continue to live healthy and independent lives.
How can we help?
We work to support our clients to maintain their independence. Guided by the key principles of the MCA, we find ways to manage our clients’ finances in the least restrictive way, enabling them to retain control for as long as possible. We also advise on other aspects of planning, such as welfare LPAs and Advance Decisions.
Whilst it is possible to continue to live a full and healthy life, dementia is progressive. Therefore, it is likely that, at some point, the individual will become unable to manage their own affairs and will increasingly require support. Taking advice and planning early for these situations, by making a Lasting Power of Attorney, both for property and finance, and also for welfare decisions, offers peace of mind. It also ensures that decisions will continue to be made for the person, in their best interests.
If you would like more information about planning or advice on making a Lasting Power of Attorney, please contact Clare Burke.
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