Dementia awareness: Understanding the condition and supporting the cause
As private client practitioners, dealing with vulnerable and elderly clients requires sensitivity, care and above all empathy. Dementia is just one of the areas where we may all, at some point in our lives, come in to contact with someone who may be showing signs, and its important we understand how to support them.
I recently became a Dementia friend as our Divisional Director of Private Law, Helen Bunker is a Dementia Champion. Blake Morgan is encouraging everyone working with individuals, to become a Dementia friend.
During our Dementia Friends training, Helen used the "Bookcase analogy" to describe how dementia may affect a person. Imagine that your memory is a book case. On the top shelf you have the most recent memories such as what you ate for breakfast or something you read in the paper. On the next shelf you have older memories from the last decade or so. The next shelves are your younger years, perhaps when you had children or met your husband or wife. The bottom shelf is your childhood memories. If you shake the book case, inevitably the books from the top shelf will fall out first. If each book is a memory, this means that the most recent will begin to fade and the oldest memories stay with you. This useful analogy helped me gain a better understanding of how someone's memory can be affected but also how it could change their behaviour if their reality is how they lived 30 or 40 years ago.
Helen also highlighted some important facts about dementia which stuck with me.
1. Dementia itself is not a disease
Dementia is the umbrella term for symptoms of memory loss and confusion. It is caused by a variety of other diseases including Alzheimer's.
2. Dementia is more than just memory loss
Whilst memory loss is a common symptom, others include confusion and disorientation, changes in behaviour, difficulty in communication and problems judging speeds and distances. For example, a person with dementia may think they are going on a short walk but lose their way and walk for miles without realising.
3. Dementia has a bigger impact on women
Approximately 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK and it is predicted to rise to over 1 million by 2025. According to Alzheimer's Research UK, half a million of those people are women and it is the leading cause of death in women in the UK. I think this statistic speaks for itself, but is nonetheless shocking.
4. Investment in dementia research is still low
In recent years the government has focused on dementia and how it is affecting our society. The charity sector has also stepped up its campaigns and fundraising. However, research in this area only receives 3% of the national research budget. Dementia itself costs the UK over £26 billion per year in health care, social care and unpaid care. There is no doubt that investment in this area is needed both in care and in medical research to work towards a cure. At present there are no treatments to stop the diseases that cause dementia. Whilst treatments exist to help people manage their lives, there is nothing to stop or slow down the progression of dementia.
Remembering a charity in your Will
This week is Dementia Awareness Week which aims to broaden people's awareness about dementia and living with it. If you wanted to support a charity or organisation that helps people living with dementia or is searching for a cure, you could consider remembering them – or another charity – in your Will.
Charitable giving in general continues to be on an upward trend and everyone can choose to give in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to run a marathon or other sporting event to fundraise for a large one off donation, others give a little each month. Leaving a legacy in a Will is a great way to give perhaps if you could not be as generous as you wanted to be during your lifetime.
In legal terms a gift in a Will is called a legacy, which can be general or a pecuniary legacy (essentially a gift of money). It is also possible to leave valuable items or property to charities that can sell it and use the proceeds for charitable purposes.
As well as an outright gift, you can also consider naming a charity as your ultimate beneficiary. In almost all cases when I am preparing Wills, I ask my clients to think of an ultimate beneficiary. If the chosen beneficiaries (spouse, children or friends) die before you, the ultimate beneficiary can inherit.
If you would prefer not to leave a legacy in your Will but would still like a charity to benefit you could say so in a letter of wishes which can be kept with your Will. This is not binding on your executors but gives them flexibility and guidance on your wishes.
Any gifts to charity are free of Inheritance Tax because of the charity exemption. If more than 10% of your net estate is left to charity your estate benefits from a lower rate of inheritance tax of 36% instead of 40%. On top of that, many people are pleased and reassured to know that they will be benefitting good causes when they die.
To find out more about how you can support people living with dementia, Dementia Awareness is full of resources.