Legal matters: Training solicitors to support people affected by dementia

From the October/November 2018 issue of Dementia together magazine, we look at training solicitors to provide the best service for people affected by dementia who are making or updating a will.

People consulting a solicitor

Staff at Buckles Solicitors in Peterborough have also done our specialist dementia awareness training

Many of the people who make or change their will with support from our Will to Remember initiative are affected by dementia in their day-to-day lives. To help solicitors offer the best service for them, Alzheimer’s Society provides a specialist dementia awareness training course for lawyers.

‘Making or updating a will is highly important, but people may put it off or feel daunted by it, especially if they’re facing a dementia diagnosis,’ says Anna Ward, Will to Remember Manager.

‘I feel we have a duty of care to remove the barriers that are maybe stopping people.’

Will to Remember

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From the heart

Will to Remember solicitors are encouraged to complete a Dementia Friends session at the very least, and ideally to complete our specially designed training.

This course is designed to help those in the legal profession feel more confident in supporting people with dementia, their families and friends.

The half-day workshop examines how dementia affects the brain and how to recognise the need to use alternative approaches when working with someone affected by the condition.

‘Seeing a solicitor can be complicated at the best of times before you add dementia on top,’ says Sue.

Most of the courses are delivered by Sue Brewin, an Associate Trainer with the Society.

‘Seeing a solicitor can be complicated at the best of times before you add dementia on top,’ she says. ‘I get them thinking about how they can slow down, use simpler language – perhaps find another way of giving information.

‘It’s about getting them to really understand the effect of dementia on everyday life and what they can do differently so that someone can be more involved in decision making.’

Sue wrote the course four years ago with the help of her godmother, who had dementia.

‘She was really involved, right up until the later stages of her life,’ says Sue. ‘When something comes from the heart of someone with dementia, it gives it that credibility.’

Solicitor talking to a client

Better understanding

The training has been very well received by solicitors across the country.

‘I found the course really informative and came away feeling I had a much better understanding of dementia and the effect it has on those people living with it,’ says Elizabeth Oakland of Touch Solicitors in Manchester.

Attendees have also gained knowledge of how to make their environments more welcoming for clients.

‘The level of understanding I now have is impacting nearly every aspect of my working life as well as day-to-day life,’ says Jennifer.

‘I now view the office differently and consider how this may appear to someone living with dementia,’ says Jennifer Turnbull of EMG Solicitors in Newcastle.

She adds, ‘The level of understanding I now have is impacting nearly every aspect of my working life as well as day-to-day life.’

After ensuring that all staff became Dementia Friends, Birchall Blackburn Law made changes to their speech, instructions, signage and even seating position when meeting with clients with dementia.

The firm’s Catherine MacCracken says the training has seen her develop a different mindset.

‘It helped me look from the inside out, rather than the outside in, which we lawyers do so much of the time,’ she says.

Leaving a legacy

Will to Remember provides clients with a straightforward service while generating vital funds for Alzheimer’s Society’s work.

One client in Leicester updated her will through Josiah Hincks Solicitors, a firm whose staff have completed our specialist dementia awareness course. She was impressed with both the solicitors and Will to Remember.

‘They were very professional and efficient – it was simple and I couldn’t fault it,’ she says.

‘My mother had Alzheimer’s for many years. You want to support an organisation that supports people who experience that illness.’

'Something is better than nothing. It was easy, convenient and worked really well,' says Julie.

Another Will to Remember client, Julie Lee, was only too happy to leave a gift to the Society after both she and her mother made wills with Roche Legal near York. The firm’s founder, Rachel Roche, has volunteered for Memory Walk and maintains close connections with the Society.

‘I wanted to support the charity with a percentage of my will,’ says Julie. ‘It might be a lot, it might not, but something is better than nothing. It was easy, convenient and worked really well.

‘If the Society doesn’t keep getting income, we won’t be able to find a cure or support people living with dementia today.’

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