As Alzheimer Awareness Month draws to a close, the message the Alzheimer Society of Canada intended to convey in the #StillHere campaign is clear: A diagnosis of dementia does not necessarily mean that an individual is no longer capable of functioning in their daily life.

According to the Alzheimer Society, dementia is often misunderstood. As a result, there can be many stigmas attached to a diagnosis that can impact a person’s ability to effectively manage the disease. For instance, in a survey conducted where participants were asked whether a person living with dementia can continue to live well, half of the respondents answered that they believed that they could not. It is these types of misconceptions and negative attitudes towards dementia that the #StillHere campaign set out to change.

Challenging these perceptions is not always easy. The #StillHere campaign has provided an excellent start with educational videos and stories from persons living with dementia in an effort to encourage the public to test their assumptions. As the Alzheimer Society notes, dementia exists on a spectrum and people with dementia can continue to engage with society in meaningful ways.

In the context of estate litigation, it is quite common to witness the effect that these preconceptions can have. For instance, a will is not automatically invalid as a result of the testator having been diagnosed with dementia prior to its execution. The test for testamentary capacity must be applied and in many cases, it can be found that despite such a diagnosis, the testator was still capable of meeting this standard.

The same can be said with respect to Powers of Attorney for Personal Care. A diagnosis of dementia does not automatically assume that the individual is incapable and that the attorney can now make personal care decisions on their behalf. The diagnosed individual must first be found to be mentally incapable pursuant to s. 45 of the Substitute Decisions Act; a finding that is not necessarily synonymous with a diagnosis of dementia.

Despite legitimate challenges associated with mental impairment, it is important to recognize that a diagnosis of dementia does not immediately suggest the loss of individuality or identity. There is no doubt that dementia is progressive and can eventually lead to severe cognitive impairments; however, as the Alzheimer Society so aptly notes in their campaign, “Life doesn’t end when Alzheimer’s begins.”

Thank you for reading.

Suzana Popovic-Montag