The Highlands of Scotland is a beautiful place to live with magnificent mountains, sea, lochs and an array of wildlife. The remoteness of many areas adds to the beauty but can also have drawbacks, particularly for the elderly and for many people who live with dementia.

Dementia is one of the biggest challenges faced today and most of us will be affected by it in some way. An estimated 6,500 people are living with dementia in the Highlands. The impact felt here is greater due to lack of public transport; long dark winters; local shops, post offices and banks closing; broadband and connectivity issues; inability to access health and social care and, for many, social isolation.

The importance of having a power of attorney cannot be underestimated, especially for those diagnosed with dementia. However, for many people living in rural areas it would involve a two or three hour journey, by car or public transport, to see a solicitor. In most cases support from family, friends or carers is required to make these long journeys.

Positive changes

While the pandemic has been devastating and brought many challenges, it has also indirectly created some positive changes for people living with dementia in rural locations.

Prior to March 2020 I met with all my clients face to face. Within days of the first 'stay at home' restrictions coming into place, the Law Society of Scotland issued advice on meeting clients virtually. Scotland was one of the first countries worldwide to offer remote meetings for signing wills and powers of attorney.

My first meetings remotely with clients were in April last year. Prior to this, many of my elderly clients didn't even have a mobile phone, let alone an iPad or smart phone. The support of family and friends was paramount to help access virtual meetings.

In recent months I have seen a change in this dynamic with many elderly people embracing the challenge and accessing virtual services by themselves. I regularly speak via video call with a 92 year old client who calls me herself and enjoys the fact that she does not have to rely on family to drive her to see me.  The ability to meet with clients virtually over the last year or so has been of particular benefit to clients who have a diagnosis of dementia, as some legal matters can be time sensitive.

Too late for a power of attorney

A diagnosis of dementia does not preclude a person from granting a power of attorney but time is of the essence. If it is left too long your loved one may not have enough capacity to grant a power of attorney and a guardianship may be required. This involves a lengthy and often expensive court application.

We are now slowly emerging from the restrictions placed on us by the Covid-19 pandemic. I am meeting with some clients face to face but many clients still prefer to meet virtually. The last year has had a positive effect on accessibility to the legal profession, especially those living with dementia.