Solicitor's dementia journey with her mum

Dealing with a client whose relative has dementia is a regular part of Amanda Smallcombe’s life as a partner and solicitor at Essex law firm Birkett Long.

But dealing with her own mother’s dementia proved a very different thing for the mother of two, which is one of the reasons she became an Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friend.

According to the Society, there are in excess of 850,000 people living with dementia, which means countless more relatives and friends dealing with their day-to-day lives, arranging their care and looking after their finances.

It was more than two years ago that Amanda’s 86-year-old mother, Anne, was diagnosed with dementia. 

Amanda, who specialises in inheritance disputes and is Head of the Court of Protection and Inheritance Disputes Team at Birkett Long, said it was a gradual thing: “I realised her forgetfulness was more than just old age when she was struggling to make decisions about things she would normally have no trouble with, such as organising herself when she moved house.”

It was followed by her being unable to wrap Christmas presents, a task that she would normally have taken in her stride.

Eventually, it was apparent that Amanda’s mother couldn’t live on her own and she now lives in a care home: “Her dementia is like a ball rolling down hill gathering momentum. She is getting worse and worse, quicker and quicker.

“She still knows me but if she is ill sometimes she fails to recognise me or my children. I’m not always convinced she knows her two brothers when they visit her either.

 “Most of the time there is still life in her eyes but you can’t really hold a conversation because she repeats herself. She can’t retain anything. I know I have lost her already – she knows who I am but I can’t engage with her in any meaningful way.

“But her care home is fantastic – I am lucky to have found this place for her and there are only 24 people resident.”

Amanda became a Dementia Friend after her son learned all about it from his Scout Leader who is a Dementia Champion.
Amanda said: “I went on a course that ran for a couple of hours to help raise awareness. It was nothing related to lawyers but it helps people like me and my team when dealing with someone who has the condition, or their families.”

According to the Society, by 2025 one million people in the UK will be living with dementia and two million by 2051. Currently, one out of every six people aged over 80 has dementia.

It is one of the reasons why the Society is calling for people to become a Dementia Friend so that they can learn what it is like to live with dementia and turn their new-found knowledge into understanding and action. It wants to create 4 million Dementia Friends by 2020.

The Society says it is the biggest movement to change the way people perceive dementia and to help them understand the condition and how it can leave someone feeling very lonely and socially excluded.

Caroline Dowding, Partner and Head of the Wills, Trust and Probate department at Birkett Long who has also become a Dementia Friend, said: “Being a Dementia Friend helps when dealing with vulnerable clients as you have a clear understanding of how the world is to them rather than from a healthy person’s perspective.  

“In turn, this enables us to appreciate how they feel, why they are often frustrated and what we can do to make them feel more at ease and comfortable thus making the process and communication of their wishes a lot smoother for them.”

Two more of Caroline’s team are due to undertake the training. If you want to become a Dementia Friend visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk

Alzhiemer’s Society facts about dementia 

  • Dementia describes different brain disorders that result in lost brain capacity
  • Alzhiemer’s is the most common form of dementia as it affects 62 per cent of those diagnosed with dementia
  • Symptoms include memory loss, problems with speech and confusion as well as understanding
  • There is no cure and it is a terminal diagnosis
  • Dementia is one of the main causes of disability in later life – more so than heart problems, strokes and cancer yet the Society says the UK spends more on the latter ailments than dementia
  • Unpaid carers of those with dementia save the public purse £11 billion annually

 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.