Alzheimer's Awareness Month: An evening at Bonhams

Balfour+Manson’s Private Client Department hosted an informal evening, surrounded by artwork, at Bonhams auction rooms.  We welcomed around 100 attendees who all took advantage of the opportunity to find out more about recent legal and tax changes in the context of changing demographics across the generations.  We were delighted to have as our guest speaker Professor June Andrews OBE FRCN, International Dementia Expert and author of ‘Dementia: the one stop guide’, and to hear her views on how art, amongst other things, can play an important part in living well with dementia

Key issues that were highlighted included the younger generation’s struggle to afford quality housing, trying to save up a deposit to buy their own home whilst paying high rents or often having to move back in with parents.  We looked at whether the older generation could help out, perhaps making lifetime gifts to grandchildren in the context of inheritance tax planning.

The ‘sandwich generation’ are those squeezed in the middle, with children at home (whether still very young, or older children who can’t afford to move out) and with older parents starting to need extra support as well, particularly if a family member is diagnosed with dementia and needs help with managing the symptoms.  It’s hard to overestimate the financial and time pressures on this generation, and we discussed that they need to take a bit of time to look after themselves too, as much as they are being called upon to care for others.

For the older generation, it’s so important to take good advice on wills, tax planning and letting people know your wishes.  This is when concerns about dementia and future care options might come to the fore and it helps to alleviate worries if you have appointed someone you trust, who knows you well, to act as attorney for you should your circumstances change. 

Professor Andrews spoke realistically and pragmatically about managing the symptoms of dementia.  Her involvement with the Dementia Services Development Trust has led to a much better understanding of what can be done to maintain good quality of life and delay deterioration caused by the underlying illness.  She was keen to remind us all that staying physically active is one of the most important things we can all do to stay healthy, particularly for people with dementia, and that social activity is also key to reduce the possibility of becoming lonely and isolated and suffering from depression.

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It is a widely held belief that art and music can be therapeutic for people with dementia, but Professor Andrews tempered this by reminding us that not all art is therapeutic, or to everyone’s taste, or within everyone’s realms of experience, or, indeed, any good whatsoever!  It served as a reminder not to treat everyone the same or to assume that what one person might enjoy and respond well to will have the same impact to another.

We rounded off the evening by pitting our wits against the auctioneers.  Charles Graham-Campbell of Bonhams showed a selection of artworks and artefacts and soon demonstrated how market trends change and the sometimes surprising values being fetched at auction for items which some of us might otherwise overlook.  It was an interesting and fun reminder to ask for professional opinions if you are de-cluttering, downsizing or helping a family member move into residential care.

There is a lot to be done to understand better how to help people with dementia, and the prospect of a cure being found is still a distant one.  In the meantime, there are steps that we can all take to ease concerns, whether they relate to finances, accommodation or social contact with friends and family, and we take heart from the very positive outcomes of ongoing research which our experts, here in Scotland, are leading.