Power of attorney a pressing matter

Health experts are warning that dementia does not just affect the elderly and can often occur in people under the age of 65. With this in mind, appointing a Lasting Power of Attorney at the earliest possible opportunity could be a sensible move.

Indeed, should you unexpectedly become unable to make decisions for yourself as a result of Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia, having someone who is legally permitted to make those decisions on your behalf and in your best interests could make coping that little bit easier, healthcare experts point out.

The risk of dementia

Alzheimer's - dubbed the silent epidemic by many in the healthcare industry - is thought to affect around 700,000 people in the UK at present. Experts have warned that due to Britain's aging population the number of people suffering from the disease will rise significantly in the coming years.

But Bupa warns that young people too are at risk of developing dementia, which can have a devastating effect on the lives of sufferers and their families.

According to the global healthcare organisation, there are around 17,000 sufferers under the age of 65 in the UK and the number of patients developing dementia in their late 30s and early 40s is growing.

Dr Graham Stokes, Bupa's dementia expert, said: "We are treating more and more younger people with different forms of dementia." And he pointed out that the early signs of youth onset dementia are often missed as they occur so slowly.

Help with decision making

Bupa points out that dementia can often transform a lively, sharp-witted person into "a shadow of their former self". Once dementia takes hold sufferers lose their ability to make even the smallest of day-to-day decisions, not to mention important choices such as whether to remortgage their home or whether to consent to medical treatment.

"Many dementia sufferers find themselves in an extremely difficult situation as they become aware their intellectual powers are failing," claims Bupa.

It is therefore important that dementia sufferers receive plenty of support, not just with daily tasks that may become arduous and mentally exhausting, but with financial planning, social arrangements and healthcare as well.

Making a lasting power of attorney

Under laws introduced in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, you are able, through a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), to choose someone to manage your property and your finances as well as make decisions about your health and welfare should you become incapable of doing so yourself. Making a LPA is a simple process and could prevent unnecessary grief should the worst happen.

A property and affairs LPA will enable a trusted individual to pay your bills, collect any income and benefits you are owed or sell your house when you are no longer able. A personal welfare LPA will permit a friend or family member to consent to or refuse medical treatment on your behalf or decide where you will live, for example.

The law stipulates that an attorney must act in your best interests, taking your past and present wishes into account and considering your personal ethics and beliefs. However, it is important when deciding who to appoint as an attorney that you choose someone you trust to do this implicitly.

Anyone aged 18 or over who has the capacity to do so can make a lasting power of attorney and can appoint one or more people under the arrangement. Like writing a will, a LPA is not something that younger people tend to think about, as death and illness can often appear far away or even impossible. But nobody knows what is around the next corner, so being prepared is always wise.

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Published on: July 31, 2008

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