Would you take a dementia test? Why it may be better to know the worst | Personal Finance | Finance

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While many will understandably prefer not to know the worst, there may be financial and emotional advantages in being prepared.

A diagnosis could help people set out their health and financial wishes while they still retain full mental capacity, easing the burden on loved ones later.

It’s a tough decision, but more of us may consider taking it.

Predicting loss of mental capacity may become more accurate as researchers have found found that almost everyone with two copies of gene variant ApoE4 goes on to develop Alzheimer’s.

This issue hit the headlines recently when Thor actor Chris Hemsworth revealed he has two copies of the ApoE4 gene.

Samantha Warner, senior associate at solicitors Winckworth Sherwood, said a new dementia blood test developed two years ago can predict onset of the disease more than a decade before symptoms appear.

“Although only available privately in the US and Hong Kong, recent funding arrangements make the prospect of the test becoming available through the NHS more likely.”

Warner said that uncovering the risk of developing dementia could pave the way for valuable conversations over your preferred care and funeral arrangements and help loved ones act in your best interests. 

“Although some may be hesitant, the prediction could also be an opportunity to get your affairs in order well ahead of a decline in mental capacity.”

In practice, many won’t want to know what’s coming their way. I certainly won’t be taking one and in any case, dementia tests are hard to come by at the moment.

It’s also perfectly possible to make plans for your final years without taking a test.

The one thing everyone should do, is write their will. “Make sure yours is up to date and reflects your current wishes. Also, make doubly sure your executors know where the original is located,” Warner said.

The next step is to set up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to appoint people you trust to manage your affairs when you can no longer do so yourself.

Warner said without an LPA, your loved ones would have to apply for a court appointed deputy to make decisions on your behalf. “This is a far a more expensive and time-consuming process.”

There are two main types of LPA. The first is a Property and Financial Affairs LPA, that allows your attorneys to manage your bank accounts, pensions and any property that you own, making key decisions and paying bills.

The second type, a Health and Welfare LPA, gives attorneys the power to make health and care decisions such as where you live and whether you should receive life-sustaining treatment.

A Health and Welfare LPA is the only way for someone to ensure their wishes are honoured if they become incapacitated or need end-of-life care, said Fiona Mainwaring, head of wills and probate at law firm ORJ.

The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman recently found that during the Covid pandemic, doctors breached human rights by making do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders without informing the patient or their family in at least 13 cases.

Mainwaring said many assume next of kin will be consulted, but this does not always happen. “An LPA should help ensure your wishes regarding end-of-life care are carried out, by appointing a family member or trusted friend to be included in any clinical decisions.”

Only around 15 percent of Britons have an LPA and, typically, people only consider one as they get older or their health begins to fail.

Mainwaring said do not leave it too late. “Sadly, catastrophic events can happen at any stage of life that leave you unable to make decisions yourself. It can be very reassuring to know that a trusted family member or friend will act in your best interests should the need arise.”

Testing for dementia may be a step too far for most of us but there is still plenty you can do to protect your family in case your mental capacity fails. Afterwards, it will be too late.

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