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Who is responsible for a person with dementia?

November 17, 2023

We all know the saying that “it takes a village” to raise a child. The same may be true for dementia patients, who, over time, experience brain deterioration and must rely on others for their care.

Caring for a person with dementia is a shared responsibility between the affected individuals themselves as they are capable of decision-making, as well as their family members, trusted healthcare professionals, nursing care or memory care staff, legal guardians, and more. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss legal capacity and power of attorney for those with dementia.

Does a Person With Dementia Have Legal Capacity?

Legal capacity refers to an individual’s ability to understand and make decisions about various aspects of their life, such as healthcare, finances, and living arrangements, which can affect legal decisions. In the early stages of dementia, individuals often maintain much of their cognitive capability and independence. In these cases, they would still have legal capacity. However, when a person’s capacity to make informed decisions begins to decline significantly, a different arrangement may become necessary.

When Does a Person With Dementia Lose Legal Capacity?

The progression of dementia affects mental, and therefore legal, capacity differently in each individual. As we mentioned, many individuals in the early stages of dementia may be able to understand their healthcare options, handle their finances, and take care of themselves. However, as dementia advances, cognitive impairment becomes more pronounced, impacting a person’s ability to make complex decisions. The loss of legal capacity occurs on a case-by-case basis and often involves a legal evaluation. It is important for dementia patients and their families to plan ahead and establish a backup for legal decision-making, possibly in the form of legal guardianship, conservatorship, or power of attorney.

What Happens if Someone Has Dementia and No Power of Attorney?

The term power of attorney (POA) refers to a legal authorization that gives a designated individual the power to act and make decisions for another. It is very helpful in cases where someone, such as a dementia patient, can no longer make informed decisions for themselves. In fact, if someone with dementia doesn’t have a POA in place, it can cause problems down the line. For example, they open themselves up to the risk of poor decision-making and financial exploitation that can come along with cognitive impairment. In the absence of a POA, family members who feel that their loved one should no longer be in charge of their legal decision-making may try to seek legal guardianship or conservatorship to make decisions for their loved ones through the court system, which can be time-consuming and costly.

Can Dementia Patients Revoke Power of Attorney?

Power of attorney after dementia diagnosis can be a tricky subject for those near it, especially because the dementia patients in question do not always realize the extent to which their decision-making abilities have been impaired. It is possible for a dementia patient to revoke power of attorney, depending on their capacity. If a dementia patient still has legal capacity and can understand the consequences of revoking a POA, they can undergo a formal revocation process. If not, they may consider appointing a legal guardian to assist them.

What Three Decisions Cannot Be Made by a Legal Power of Attorney?

A legal power of attorney grants the designated individual (aka agent or attorney-in-fact) the power to make decisions on behalf of the person who designated them. However, there are three kinds of decisions that cannot be made by an attorney-in-fact:

  1. Decisions outside the scope of the POA: The authority granted by a POA is laid out in the document. If a particular decision is not explicitly covered by the POA, the attorney-in-fact cannot make that decision.
  2. Illegal or unethical decisions: Obviously, the attorney-in-fact cannot commit illegal acts through their POA.
  3. Personal and non-delegable decisions: Some decisions, such as those pertaining to voting, marriage, and drafting a will, are considered deeply personal and cannot be delegated to an attorney-in-fact.

Who Is Responsible for a Parent With Dementia?

If you’ve taken emotional and/or legal responsibility for an elderly parent with dementia, we know the toll it can take. Do not be afraid to rely on other resources for those with dementia, including other family members and friends, their healthcare professionals, local community and senior centers, nationwide senior and dementia care services, geriatric specialists, legal specialists (especially in elder care), and more. Additionally, when it comes time for dementia patients to receive more intensive or specialized care, you can consider options such as assisted living facilities, nursing care facilities, and memory care homes to help share the responsibility of their care.

How Story Cottage Living Can Help 

Learn more about our radical approach to memory care and why it may be right for your loved one today. With the lowest patient-to-caregiver ratio in the Carmel and Indianapolis regions, you’ll know you can depend on Story Cottage. Call us today to book your complimentary consultation.