It’s Dementia Week and I am appearing on BBC Radio Ulster‘s Talkback programme this lunchtime to discuss my father’s dementia. I think it highly important that we do so, and my main aim (although it’ll be just a five-minute edit in the end) is to help others prepare. This is something with which many of us are already familiar, and that is bound, in the next generation, to become most of us.
1. Prepare for dementia right from the off – if you are lucky enough to live to a reasonable age, there is a fair chance you will get it. Most importantly, sign an Enduring Power of Attorney (in Northern Ireland; now known as a Lasting Power of Attorney in England/Wales). This has the effect of allocating responsibility for your health/welfare (albeit to a more limited degree in Northern Ireland than in England/Wales) and finances/property to someone else in the event that you are deemed unfit to make these decisions for yourself (collectively in Northern Ireland; there is now a separate document for each in England/Wales). Do this as soon as your children reach adulthood.
2. If you are fairly sure a loved one has early dementia, talk about it – in my case, this was when my father completely lost his sense of direction, but there are of course other indicators. This can be done gently; focus on how perhaps the memory is not what it was, perhaps some decisions are becoming unnecessarily stressful, or whatever. Continue to get physical and mental exercise.
3. If you are fairly sure a loved one is advancing with dementia, get a diagnosis – in my case, this was when my father had run up mobile phone bills, inadvertently on contracts he no doubt did not mean to sign, of ₤2,000. This may require some hard work and you may have to do it yourself (some GPs are unwilling to give the diagnosis and there is no particular clear boundary between dementia and not-dementia) – in my case, I myself had to make an appointment with the GP practically to demand the diagnosis be made, largely because my father (inevitably and understandably) denied as much was wrong as was.
4. When you feel your loved one really isn’t capable of handling their own affairs, you will then need to activate your Power of Attorney, by placing it with the High Court complete with confirmation of diagnosis by the GP. Unfortunately this costs – ₤50 to the GP, ₤120 to the Court plus (probably) legal fees. You will then receive one copy of the Power of Attorney stamped by the Court, plus copies – to use it with any authority (say, a bank) you will need to show the original and leave a copy. Note that the Power applies throughout the UK – a lot of private institutions in other legal jurisdictions of the UK will try to deny this, and so it may be worth having some solicitor’s letters handy to write to any such institution.
5. Be prepared throughout of the emotional journey – it is all well and good managing the administrative side efficiently, but ultimately you are restricting the independence of a loved one and that entails, frankly, a grieving process of sorts. Do not be ashamed of this – in fact, there would be something wrong with you if you were not, at various stages, upset by what you are having to do. And do speak to people – most people have some idea at least of what you are going through.
I sincerely hope this helps.