665 appoint guardians: Mental Capacity Act

The Straits Times
10 Sep 2011
Judith Tan

They name proxies to make life decisions on their behalf should they lose mental capacity
 
IN THE space of about a year, 665 people have legally appointed someone to make decisions for them, should they become mentally incapable of doing so.
 
Of the 665 people, 67 per cent are aged between 35 and 70; another 31 per cent who put in papers for what is called Lasting Power of Attorney are aged 71 and above.
 
They are among the first to act on the landmark law, which from March last year has enabled people to give someone the responsibility of making life decisions for them in case accidents or illnesses rob them of their mental capacity.
 
The figures come from the first annual report of the Public Guardian Board, which oversees the 11/2-year-old Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).
 
The incumbent Public Guardian is former district judge Daniel Koh.
 
The OPG protects the dignity and interests of individuals who lack mental capacity and are vulnerable, and encourages proactive planning by the able-minded for this eventuality.
 
A division of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, the OPG also investigates claims of abuse, neglect or abandonment of mentally incapacitated people, which are crimes under the Mental Capacity Act.
 
It also checks to ensure that the information supplied in applications for Lasting Power of Attorney is in order.
 
‘Mental capacity’ encompasses the cluster of mental skills people use in their daily lives, such as memory, logic, the ability to calculate and to switch tasks.
 
Conditions which can sap these abilities include strokes, poor nutrition, depression, dementia and head injuries.
 
The Mental Capacity Court, which prosecutes cases related to the Act, dealt with 171 cases between March last year and this March. The bulk, 44 per cent, involved individuals above age 70; another quarter involved those aged 56 to 70.
 
Associate Professor Paulin Straughan of the National University of Singapore said the fact that more than 600 people have acted to safeguard their welfare in case the untoward happens reflects awareness on the part of Singaporeans on the need to take ‘proactive steps’.
 
‘It is very important as Singapore starts to grey and Singaporeans are expected to live longer. This takes the burden off the state and also makes it easier for families to manage their elder-care responsibilities,’ she said.
 
Singapore’s population is ageing at a rate second only to Japan’s. By 2030, one in five people here will be 65 or older.
 
Mr Wong Kum Meng, 61, is among those who have applied to give Lasting Power of Attorney to someone. His appointed guardian is his wife, Madam Lee Yu Sum, also 61. He said he learnt about the Act through media reports and decided he did not want to be caught unprepared ‘for life’s uncertainties’.
 
Mr Koh said of the applications received so far: ‘It is heartening to note that family ties remain key in our social fabric. Close to 90 per cent appointed their family members as their guardians.’
 
But Public Guardian Board chairman Richard Magnus said the take-up rate is still low and more can be done. In his statement in the report, he said one of the OPG’s priorities going forward was to raise awareness of the benefits of applying for the Lasting Power of Attorney.
 
juditht@sph.com.sg
 
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