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The rights of people with dementia in Portugal are being better respected and promoted, thanks to a new legal framework

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Alzheimer Portugal

Although Portugal is still waiting for the implementation of the 5 Regional Dementia Plans in the field of Health and in spite of its Health Strategy for Dementia focusing solely on healthcare issues, and not at all on social issues, rights and research, a very important achievement happened in what concerns the rights of people with dementia, with the implementation of a new legal framework for persons with diminished capacity (“Regime do Maior Acompanhado”) that is line with the New York Convention (Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

This is a completely new paradigm based on autonomy. The new legal framework came into force on 10 February last year and since then, Alzheimer Portugal is pleased to report that people become much more aware of the need to plan in advance. In any individual situation, the measures are to be enacted in the perspective of restricting rights as little as possible, in order to respect as much as possible the person´s autonomy. For example, a person experiencing difficulties in dealing with money, taking complex decisions about their real estate or about how to manage savings, but who is still capable of taking other personal decisions, they can ask the court to appoint them a person “acompanhante”, to help them taking those decisions they are struggling with, but continuing to have autonomy in other areas. The person requesting this (the person with “diminished capacity”) has the right to choose the “acompanhante”. This is a big difference compared to the former framework that stated that the guardian should be the spouse or, if not possible, the eldest son or daughter.

As a person’s capacity may diminish further as their condition progresses, the court decision may be reviewed, at any time, as the circumstances change, and at least every five years. Of course, there are people that are not cognitively in a condition to apply for their own measures, and in these circumstances, the judicial procedure may be initiated by another person (the spouse, cohabiting partner, or other close relative). This can only be done with sufficient reason given, in the eyes of the court, as to why it is necessary. This is just one example of the positive changes taking place in Portugal, since the implementation of this new legal framework. There are many other aspects of this legislation that are helping to ensure the rights of people with dementia are being upheld.

The former legal framework was basically a one-size-fits-all. The current one is a custom made suit, which makes for a much more appropriate, practical and fair system. There has been great interest from all the stakeholders to discuss and learn about this new legal framework and Alzheimer Portugal has organised several training initiatives, stressing the importance of respecting and promoting the rights of people with dementia.