If your relative has dementia, you may need to take a different approach to discussing care options.

Dementia is not just about memory loss – it can also cause people’s behaviour to change and affect their judgement. They may become confused, angry or find it difficult to make decisions. They might not understand what is going on, or be able to remember why they need to sell their house, get a full-time carer or move into a care home. On this page we make suggestions for discussing options depending on the following circumstances:

1. Suspected dementia
2. Diagnosed dementia
3. If you are acting on behalf of someone else

Suspected dementia

If you suspect that your relative has dementia, but you are not sure, they should see their GP as soon as possible about Diagnosing dementia. This will help you both to decide on the best course of action and make it easier to plan for the future. There are also some great organisations that can give you advice and support, such as the Alzheimer's Society.

If your relative doesn’t already have a power of attorney in place, and they still have good judgement (legally termed ‘mental capacity’), they should get one set up as soon as possible, so that they have someone that they trust to make important decisions about the future on their behalf. Read more about how to set up a power of attorney in our guide to Managing your relative’s financial affairs.

Diagnosed dementia

If your relative already has a dementia diagnosis, and is displaying signs of confusion or memory loss, it may not be possible for them to make some decisions about the future, particularly major decisions about finances, accommodation or health. The level of involvement that they can have depends on what stage they are at in their illness.

If your relative clearly doesn’t understand the options available to them, or the implications of their decisions, you or another close relative may have to step in to make the decisions that you feel are in their best interests.  

Even if you have to make decisions on a relative’s behalf, you should always include them by explaining clearly what is happening. Where possible, give your relative simple choices and ask for their preferences so that you (or whoever has power of attorney) can take their wishes into account.

If you are acting on behalf of someone else

If you are an appointed attorney for someone, you are legally required to always act in their best interests. Of course, if you are acting on behalf of a relative, you would want this anyway.

In practice, a ‘best interests’ decision is not simply what you think is best for them. You should also consider the person’s past and present views, wishes or feelings. Weighing this all up, and trusting that you’ve made the right decisions, can be a difficult process.  

Depending on the decisions that need to be made, you might need to consult other people in your relative’s ‘support network’. For example, you might want to ask advice from family members, your relative’s social worker, doctor, solicitor or financial adviser.

More information

Page last reviewed: 20 May 2016
Next review due: 31 January 2018