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We must start discussing dementia now

Researchers now suggest 1 in 3 babies born in 2015 will go on to develop dementia in their lifetime, unless a cure or vaccine can be found.
That stark message from Alzheimer’s Scotland has profound implications for families, healthcare and social care. But there are many ways people living with dementia can be supported to enjoy a full life and maintain independence. It is highly likely dementia will affect someone you know, whether clients and customers, work colleagues, family members, friends, neighbours – or you personally.
We can all play our part in Dementia Awareness Week, which starts today, in raising awareness of how the disease affects people, and thinking about how we interact with people living with dementia on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stigma and make life a bit easier. The Dementia Friends initiative is easy to get involved with, and provides free online training, with insight into how the disease affects people and how everyone can make a difference.
However, because there is no cure, it is important to recognise additional support may be required in the future and to put measures in place as early as possible. Indeed, we would encourage everyone, regardless of whether they are directly affected by dementia, to act early to safeguard the future.
Think about what might happen if you or a family member were unable to continue managing their finances. Contrary to what you might think, this is often not due to a complete loss of capacity. It may be that difficulties with concentration and planning as well as short-term memory loss lead to household bills going unpaid or other communications being overlooked. This is not the same as a complete lack of capacity. The key is to ask for or provide support as and when it is needed and for specific tasks.
This underpins the basis on which legally-appointed attorneys may act. An attorney, once appointed, doesn’t just they step in and take over the day-to-day management of someone’s life. They must only act where they have specific authority and consent, or if there is a complete loss of capacity – and even then, any intervention in an adult’s life must be the minimum possible.
The Office of the Public Guardian publishes a Code of Practice and five guiding principles which attorneys must abide by. These are:

Benefit – no action should be taken unless it will benefit the adult;

Minimum intervention – any action taken should be the minimum necessary to achieve the purpose and should be the option that restricts the adult’s freedom as little as possible;

Take account of the wishes of the adult – past and present wishes and feelings of the adult should be taken into account;

Consultation with relevant others – the views of the adult, nearest relative, primary carer, guardian, attorney or any other person deemed to have interest must be determined before any intervention is made;

Encourage the adult to exercise whatever skills he or she has, as far as they are capable, concerning their financial affairs, property and personal welfare.

Something we can all do is to start talking about dementia. Voice your opinions, discuss options, let people know what your wishes would be in different circumstances. Let people know if you would be willing to offer and accept practical, financial and emotional support. Deal with the practicalities of putting a power of attorney in place well in advance of ever needing one and use this as a good opportunity to discuss your views with the people you would appoint as your attorneys.
There are many practical ways we can make a difference, to break down the stigma of mental health issues, and be more aware how dementia affects people’s everyday lives. Becoming a Dementia Friend is quick and straightforward. Training highlights how day-to-day activities which can sometimes become difficult for people with dementia can be made easier with a bit more understanding, patience and willingness to help from those around.
Speak to your employer about this. Balfour+Manson has committed to training all members of staff, in all roles and at all stages of their careers, to become Dementia Friends. All new employees will have this incorporated into their induction when they join us. Better awareness and understanding of the disease will help more people to feel supported, ask for help when needed and live well with dementia.
More details on Dementia Awareness Week: https://daw.alzscot.org/ and becoming a Dementia Friend: http://www.dementiafriendsscotland.org
The above article appeared in The Scotsman on Monday 4th June 2018.