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Dementia and the law

Life expectancy is increasing, more people are going into care and the numbers suffering from dementia are going up. The average life expectancy for men is now 77.7 years and 81.9 years for women. The inevitable consequence is that more people will need residential care and according to the Alzheimer’s Society there are currently 800,000 people in the UK who are diagnosed with dementia. Research shows that 64 per cent of people currently living in care homes have dementia.

Often this is a time of year when you spend more time with relatives and it might be the first time that you notice elderly relatives having more difficulty with memory loss and other issues. In some cases this can be a symptom of dementia and as well as getting medical help, there are some legal issues that should be considered too.

Symptoms of dementia can include memory loss, mood changes and problems with communication and reasoning. These symptoms often result in a person not being able to make decisions for themselves. In order for someone else to make decisions on their behalf there must be a registered Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place.

There are two types of LPA, one for someone’s property and affairs and one for their health and welfare. This allows people to appoint an attorney to make decisions on their behalf should they lose capacity to make decisions for themselves. These decisions could be anything from agreeing to sell a property to making choices about the kind of care the individual should receive. More and more people are taking this step and the Office of the Public Guardian which oversees this area reports that the number has trebled over the last three years, reaching 210,000 a year.

Ideally LPAs should be put in place when people are in full health as none of us know what the future will hold, but it is especially important if you are concerned a relative may be showing early signs of dementia. I’ve found that preparing an LPA gives my clients peace of mind as they know who will be making decisions on their behalf, should that become necessary. LPAs are also far more cost effective and less stressful than the alternative of having to go to the Court of Protection to appoint a deputy if somebody loses capacity without having an LPA.

When LPAs came into effect five years ago people were very keen to prepare the property and affairs LPA. With dementia and numbers of people requiring residential care increasing, families are now starting to realise the importance of preparing a health and welfare LPA so that an attorney can make decisions concerning the type of care their loved one receives.

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