Annabelle Vaughan is a Solicitor in Coffin Mew’s Court of Protection team and a Dementia Friends Champion. She is helping to change the way society views people with dementia, whilst providing valuable legal advice to people living with dementia and their families.
There are around 800,000 people affected by dementia in the UK costing society over £23bn a year. Whilst increasingly common in the elderly, dementia also affects some 17,000 younger people, and with the Alzheimer’s Society predicting more than one million sufferers by 2021, there is a clear need for society and the business community to better understand and cater for the needs of patients and their families.
Annabelle Vaughan joined Coffin Mew after qualifying as a Solicitor in 2008. She specialises in advising people and their families suffering from brain injuries and other disabilities. Her work regularly brings her into contact with patients at different stages of dementia.
I have a great deal of experience of working with people with dementia, and first-hand experience of having a family member with dementia,” says Annabelle. “This helps me to empathise with people living with dementia and their families whilst offering them the straightforward, professional advice they need at what will inevitably be a difficult time.
There are many different types of dementia and some share common symptoms and may include memory loss, difficulties with thinking, problem solving or language. But how dementia manifests itself will vary from person to person,” explains Annabelle. “Many people put the symptoms of dementia down to the ageing process, but that is not always the case. Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing.
It is quite common for Annabelle to be the first person to raise the prospect of early stage dementia in her clients. “When, for example, making a Will, it is important that an individual has capacity to make that Will, which is set out in a specific legal test. If they cannot meet that test, the Will is invalid.”
“Some clients and particularly their families, understandably, find this upsetting. But it is, of course, paramount that clients are given the right legal advice in their situation, however difficult this is to deliver. In this situation we would always advise the client and their families of the things they can do, not just what they cannot do.”
Where an individual is diagnosed with dementia, Annabelle and her colleagues work with them and their families making legal arrangements that will provide on-going support whilst reflecting the wishes of the individual.
In February 2014 Annabelle spent a day training to become a ‘Dementia Friend’, a special initiative organised by the Alzheimer’s Society.
“Dementia is commonly misunderstood,” says Annabelle. “It is very easy to get frustrated with someone who has dementia, but attending a Dementia Friends session helps challenge those preconceptions and leaves you better equipped to deal with dementia sufferers.”
“For example, I know that if a loved one forgets who you are it can be hugely upsetting. In a Dementia Friends information session you are asked to consider this situation from the point of view of someone living with dementia.”
“It is possible to live well with dementia and this initiative is designed to make society a kinder place for those living with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society is aiming to have one million people trained by May 2015 and is rolling out the programme across Wales and Scotland.”
As a Dementia Friends Champion, Annabelle has helped train over 30 people at Coffin Mew with a firm wide training session planned for the summer. “Whilst not specialist legal training, it is part of the whole package that makes Coffin Mew a leader in the field of advising individuals living with dementia and their families,” explains Annabelle.