The last 18 months have brought isolation to many. Family members and friends of those suffering with dementia will have followed the rules governing the country and will not have seen those they care about for many months, in order to protect them from COVID-19. However, as restrictions are removed, they are noticing a significant deterioration in the condition of those they care about. In addition, there are those who have developed symptoms and are now receiving a dementia diagnosis.

It is important to think of what should happen in the future, as illness progresses. Now is the time to have conversations with your friend or family member about how they would like to deal with different aspects of their life. The sooner legal advice is taken, the better. A power of attorney is a document which allows the adult to make their own choices about who should assist them with both financial and welfare matters.

What should you do after a dementia diagnosis?

So, what do you do if you are worried about someone being able to make decisions for themselves? We've listed the steps to take after a diagnosis or a deterioration in their abilities to manage:

1. Seek legal advice

A dementia diagnosis does not automatically mean that a sufferer is unable to make important decisions for themselves. However, all forms of dementia are progressive meaning that symptoms will worsen over time. It is, therefore, important to act quickly.

The first thing to do is to seek independent advice. While you might be aware of the change in your friend or relative, it is sometimes difficult to be objective. Therefore, it is highly possible that the adult has capacity and would be able to discuss matters with their lawyer.

2. Don't assume capacity

The presumption is that everyone understands and can make decisions for themselves. This remains the case for those who have been diagnosed with dementia. There is no "on/off" switch for dementia sufferers. Therefore, even if there is some loss of capacity, that does not mean that the adult will be unable to ever make decisions again.

What are the considerations? Is the adult capable of:

a) acting; or

b) making decisions; or

c) communicating decisions; or

d) understanding decisions; or

e) retaining the memory or decisions?

It may be that the adult is aware they do not understand the details of a specific matter, but they have sufficient understanding to grant an attorney to allow someone else to deal with that matter.

3. Help your lawyer with planning

We will do our utmost to allow the adult to continue to manage their own affairs. In doing so, we can arrange to have meetings at a time of day that the adult feels clearer and is able to retain details of any discussion. For example, it may be that the adult has been prescribed certain types of medication which affect their ability to make decisions. It would, therefore, be best practice to arrange a meeting with the client before they take said medication each day.

4. Seek a medical opinion (if required)

If there is a question of whether the adult has sufficient capacity to grant a power of attorney, it is possible to seek a medical opinion. This can be from their GP or consultant. While the decision ultimately lies with a sheriff in court (should a relevant action be raised), if both a solicitor and a doctor confirm they were of the view that the adult had sufficient capacity to appoint an attorney, this will allow the deed to be registered.

5. Speak to your loved one

Whether a power of attorney is granted, or a guardianship application must be made, it is important to remember some further points:

a) any action must benefit the person and be necessary;

b) the wishes of the person must be taken into account;

c) the steps taken should be the least restrictive option; and

d) the adult must be encouraged to do as much as possible for themselves.

As such, every opportunity to obtain the adult's views and opinions must be taken. This will ensure the adult's wishes are adhered to as much as possible and the attorney (or guardian) is confident that they are following the guidelines.

Appointing an attorney means that the desired person will be able to act on the adult's behalf. However, if it is too late to appoint an attorney, other options are available to you and your family members. We're here to help.

Brodies LLP are proud to choose Alzheimer Scotland as their charity partner for 2020-2023.