Powers of Attorney: Seniors Rights Victoria’s project with Dementia Australia

Thoughtfully prepared Powers of Attorney can reduce the risk of elder abuse for people living with dementia.

Late last year, Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) partnered with Dementia Australia (DA) to develop a project which aimed to prevent elder abuse occurring for a particularly high risk group of older people – being those living with dementia. Upon receiving a grant of funding for the project, SRV then worked with DA to provide one-hour community legal information sessions to over 150 people across Victoria who were newly diagnosed with dementia, and their families and friends.

SRV advocate Mandy Walmsley and lawyers Melanie Perkins presented the sessions. They spoke about the benefits of having a Power of Attorney (POA). They said that POAs did not always have to be standardised, but could be tailored to an individual’s circumstances. As an added component of the program, SRV offered to prepare individualised POAs for participants in one-on-one appointments.

‘One critical thing we talk about in the sessions is, regardless of whether they have a POA or not, is how important it is for people to have conversations with their families and friends about what they want and don’t want,’ Mandy said.

‘If those conversations have occurred, it is much more likely that if a person loses capacity to make decisions for themselves, the decisions that are made for them are decisions that they would have chosen to make for themselves.

Melanie said that the legislation around Powers of Attorney provided additional protection.

‘If the worst does occur, and an Attorney makes bad financial decisions or there is misappropriation of money, having a POA means there is the possibility of compensation under the relevant legislation,’ she said. ‘This protection doesn’t exist if you just give someone access to internet banking to help you pay your bills.’

‘People who have been diagnosed with dementia understandably focus on their health.  These sessions help people living with dementia to also consider legal implications and to plan for the future.’

An advocate and lawyer from SRV and a counsellor from DA facilitated all the sessions.

‘This ensured the legal information given was based on therapeutic principles and an empowerment approach, including the provision of support for non-legal but associated issues facing the individual,’ Mandy said. ‘It also allowed for screening for elder abuse.’

The sessions were delivered between February and August in locations including Frankston, Rosebud, Ballarat and Geelong.

The partnership was funded by the Victorian Government’s Integrated Services Fund, through the Federation of Community Legal Centres Vic.

SRV were very pleased to be awarded a second year of funding for the 2020 year. While continuing our work with Dementia Australia, the aim is to extend the program to culturally and linguistically diverse people living with dementia, their carers, family and friends.

‘We aim to deliver a further 22 sessions in partnership with Dementia Australia later this year and early next year,’ Melanie says.