According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and this is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Here at CooperBurnett, we were the first business in Tunbridge Wells to officially be named as ‘dementia friendly’. Since then, Associate Solicitor, Katie Hancock, from our Private Client team has become a Dementia Friends Champion, with the goal of not only increasing our understanding of dementia across the team here but also sharing her knowledge with the wider community.
“Within the Private Client team, we have all developed specialist areas and I have become increasingly involved with supporting our elderly and vulnerable clients,” says Katie. “It’s an area we simply can’t ignore. There is currently no cure for dementia and more and more people will be living with it as the years go on. As a community, there isn’t as much understanding as there could be and, through Dementia Friends, we are hoping to change that.”
Dementia Friends is a national initiative from Alzheimer’s Society that aims to change the way we think, act and talk about dementia. There is already an active Dementia Friends Community in Tonbridge, led by Christine Parker from Abbey Funeral Services, and a similar initiative launched in Tunbridge Wells just before the pandemic hit.
“We are hoping now to start holding regular meetings and strengthen the community here,” explains Katie.
As a Dementia Friends Champion, Katie’s plan is to start rolling-out hour-long information sessions which are tailored to different groups in the local community including school children and businesses. She is also looking to deliver sessions within care homes to relatives to help increase their understanding of the condition their loved one is living with.
“There is an appetite here from my colleagues at CooperBurnett to discover more about dementia, so my plan is to initially deliver the information sessions to the team here, five or six people at a time,” she explains. “Then I’ll be ready to roll it out into the wider community. I’ve already had interest from some other local professional firms and the Alzheimer’s Society has a dashboard where I can see requests for sessions from the community.”
In her role as a Private Client solicitor, specialising in Wills, LPAs and probate, Katie frequently acts for clients who have been affected, both directly and indirectly, by dementia.
“The tools and understanding I’ve developed due to my association with Dementia Friends has really helped me in my role here at CooperBurnett,” says Katie. “I’ve become more understanding and sensitive to the situations I find myself in with my elderly clients. It’s about treating people with the respect they deserve.”
She continues: “What I’ve really come to understand is that people with dementia have their own reality but that doesn’t mean they can’t live a fulfilling and happy life if we take the time to understand their perception of things. Relatively small changes can make a big difference and the key message is that there is more to a person than the dementia.”
Katie graduated with a degree in law from the University of Kent in 2005 and completed her Legal Practice Course (LPC) at The College of Law in Guildford in 2008. She qualified in 2012 and joined us here at CooperBurnett in 2018.
“The team here is great; really supportive,” says Katie. “We all know each other and that helps when there’s a need to refer work within CooperBurnett, as I immediately know who the best person will be.”
Katie says she was particularly drawn to Private Client work, as it’s very client-facing. Not surprisingly, she’s found the lack of face-to-face meetings with clients a challenge during the pandemic.
“It’s not just the fact that I enjoy meeting people but I think the risks are higher if you don’t see them in person, particularly when it comes to mental capacity issues or perhaps how clients really feel about particular decisions, such as the provisions of their Wills,” she explains. “It’s just so important to make your wishes clear when you are still alive, because nobody can double check issues with you after you’re gone.”
Within the Private Client team, Katie describes probate as her ‘bread and butter’.
“Clients have enough to deal with at that time, without the administrative burden which probate brings,” she says. “It’s nice to tell somebody not to worry and to hand over all the paperwork for us to deal with. It takes some of the pressure away at a difficult time.”
Katie adds though that there are challenges at the moment: “Most of the probate applications we deal with now have to be submitted online and while you’d think that would speed up the process, it really hasn’t! We are really having to manage clients’ expectations regarding that, particularly if there’s a property which needs to be sold.”
In her spare time, Katie enjoys arts and crafts, a hobby she shares with her children. During lockdown, this particularly included making pom poms, which she crafted into wall hangings and wreaths. Her efforts have even featured on a popular Facebook group for crafters.
If you are interested in finding out more about becoming a Dementia Friend, please get in touch with Katie on email@example.com or tel: 01892 515022.