REFERRAL PATTERNS OF AUSTRALIAN LAWYERS ON DECISION-MAKING CAPACITY OF OLDER CLIENTS
 
Helmes, E., James Cook University and Allan, A. and Lewis, V.E., Edith Cowan University, Australia
 
Lawyers are often the first professionals to encounter older clients whose capacity to make important decisions may be compromised by factors more common in older people than younger ones, such as neurological illness, cardiovascular disease, or medications that affect cognitive processes. In such cases, lawyers may request additional information from a third party. Here we report on the results of a survey of 1552 lawyers from across Australia that asked several questions as to their experience of problems and practices with regard to the capacity to make legal decisions among their older clients. Results from 299 respondents represent a return rate of 20.4% of the number sent out. The great majority (72.6%) was male, with a mean age of 45.6 years (SD=10.4). Respondents had a mean of 18.8 years of experience with older clients (SD=10.2). The most frequently consulted third party was the family physician (85.4%), with psychiatrists the next most common (25.2%). Members of the client's family were consulted by 11.3%. Other groups were consulted less frequently. Results are discussed in terms of the knowledge base of the third parties and the likelihood of specialized training in assessing the capacity of older clients to make decisions.