September marks World Alzheimer's Month, reminding us that dementia continues to be an illness that affects many homes and families across the globe – and indeed, here in Scotland.

The statistics for Scotland alone make for stark reading; around 93,000 are currently living with dementia – and it is expected that this number will double in a generation. The impact on individuals and their families is devastating; it is an illness that affects capacity and can, in some cases, do so at a rapid rate.

There is a common misconception that, if someone becomes incapable of making their own decisions, those actions fall to a spouse, civil partner or children. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.

I am regularly contacted by distraught family members who have been advised to speak to a solicitor as they don't have authority to make decisions on behalf of a loved one. Unfortunately, if you have lost capacity, it is too late to appoint an attorney. A guardianship will have to be obtained, which is a lengthy, often expensive, court procedure - and the guardian appointed may not be the person you would wish to look after you.

If you are still capable of making decisions however, a Power of Attorney (POA) is possible. It's a legal document that allows a chosen individual to make choices for you, or act on your behalf, if you're no longer able to or if you no longer want to make your own decisions. That individual could be a family member, a friend or a professional – ultimately someone you trust.

There are two types of POA. A continuing POA enables someone else to look after your financial matters, such as property, paying bills and access to bank accounts, while a welfare POA relates to decisions about your health and welfare. It is advisable to appoint both continuing and welfare powers and, although completely separate, they can be combined in one document.

It is important to think carefully about the powers your attorney will need to carry out full management of both your finances and welfare - and to ensure that these are contained in the POA.

The document must be signed by a solicitor or a medical professional, to confirm that you have capacity to grant a POA and you are not being pressured into signing.

The POA must be registered with The Office of the Public Guardian. The financial powers come into play once registered, or at the point of incapacity. Welfare powers only come into force if you are deemed incapable. More than one attorney can be appointed, which will allow multiple individuals to take part in the decision-making on your behalf.

There is a sense that addressing the future is still very much a taboo topic; no one likes to think or even talk about a point in time when themselves or a loved one is no longer able to make decisions about their finances or welfare. But it is an unfortunate reality.

Incapacity is a topic that I regularly discuss with individuals and families - not just those who have been affected by Alzheimer's and dementia - and I never stop emphasising the importance of having a POA in place. It gives you the power to choose who makes decisions on your behalf - and saves additional stress, costs and even family disputes later down the line.

This article first appeared in the Press and Journal