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Health For Members

How to get help in France with dementia and memory loss

James Harrington
James Harrington - [email protected]
How to get help in France with dementia and memory loss
(Photo by SIMON DAWSON / POOL / AFP)

It’s not something anyone wants to consider, but older people especially are susceptible to suffering some form of mental decline including dementia - and there is help and support out there in France.

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If you are concerned that a loved one or friend may be showing signs of mental decline, here's an overview of the system in France and where you might go to get help.

What to do if you think a loved one has dementia

First things first, dementia is not an illness. It is, more accurately, a catch-all term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking and social abilities, linked to one of a number of medical conditions of the brain, including Alzheimer’s, or by traumatic brain injuries. Symptoms vary according to the part of the brain that is damaged.

Dementia can occur at any age, but mainly affects older people. It is the cause of more than half of referrals to long-stay centres.

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Britain’s NHS website lists early dementia signs to be aware of. If you are concerned that a loved one is displaying one or more of these signs, then you should seek out a formal diagnosis. Such signs do not prove the presence of a neurocognitive disorder, but if they do, early detection will make things much easier.

The first step – as always – is to arrange a consultation with your GP, who may refer the patient to a specialist.

READ ALSO How to make a doctor’s appointment in France

What happens in the specialist consultation

A referral will generally see the patient go to a local Consultation mémoire de proximité (CMP) in a Centre mémoire de ressources et de recherche (CMRR), where a specialist medical team can diagnose dementia and memory disorders.

The diagnosis will follow a series of cognitive assessment tests as well as, perhaps, brain scans and physical tests, depending on the outcome of the cognitive testing. The specialists will give you all the information you need at the time.

If a form of dementia is diagnosed, it’s understandable that you’ll be concerned about what could and should happen if your loved one can no longer take care of themselves.

As with early detection of a degenerative brain condition itself, it’s important not to leave discussions about the future too long. Do it before it’s too late is the best advice, even though it’s a conversation (or a series of them) that you will not want to have.

Financial and legal affairs

France has several administrative options for legal arrangements similar to power of attorney or guardianship – known by the umbrella term of mesures de protection judiciaires (judicial protection measures) – as well as less formal steps for those who are unable to make decisions in their daily life.

READ ALSO GUIDE: Guardianship or power of attorney options in France for elderly or vulnerable people

It is worthwhile noting, for example, that power of attorney in France can be separated into different individual areas – banking, administration, documents and management related to assets/inheritance, and voting – or granted for all sections.

It is also a good idea to check any life and health insurance policies. France insurance companies offer something known as Assurance dépendance, which pays out when holders are unable to care for themselves.

READ ALSO Health insurance in France: What you need to know about a mutuelle

Most policies insure against partial and/or total loss of autonomy. The exact sums – paid either as a lump sum or monthly – depend on the terms of the policy and degree of incapacity and can cover adaptations to a home to allow for the care of a dependent person, home help, specialised transport – even funeral expenses.

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Meanwhile, families caring for a family member with dementia may also be eligible for means-tested Allocation personnalisée d’autonomie

READ ALSO French government’s seven-step plan to improve end-of-life care

Help and support

It is worthwhile getting in touch with agencies and associations, France Alzheimer for example, once you have a diagnosis. 

They will be best placed to help you navigate the French system for care and assistance – and even just provide emotional support when you need it.

They can also guide you through the CAF benefits that you may be eligible for, or help you apply for visits from a home help or aide domicile.

If the time comes when the person can no longer live at home and residential care is required, here's a look at how the French care home system works, and the financial situation for people who have never worked in France.

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