As a caretaker, I want to make sure our elder is allowed to do the things she can do. I’d like her to be able to vote, but the legal matters surrounding it are unclear. Here is what I’ve learned.
Civic Duty: Voting is a right, but rights come with responsibilities. It is our civic duty to vote. Many choose not to do so, and that’s up to them. The question isn’t does a dementia patient have the civic duty to vote. It’s can they do so responsibly.
Study: A study was published in 2011 on the topic of dementia patients and their ability to vote. There were 68 patients with varying levels of dementia and a control group of 25 without signs of dementia. They used a couple of different tests to find out if the patients had the ability to understand the issues, understand the choices and an ability to make a choice.
The findings suggested that those with mild dementia could still understand and make a decision. Those with moderate dementia varied in ability and those with severe dementia didn’t understand and/or couldn’t make a decision.
What does that mean? It may seem clear cut; give a simple test and you know whether or not a dementia patient can and should vote. However there is some murky ground here. Who gives the test? Is it a national test or done individually? What happens to those in the middle?
Moderate Dementia and Voting: The biggest concern here is not about the “can” part. It’s about whether or not a caretaker or a group of caretakers may accidentally (or on purpose) sway the vote of the patient.
Most of us have an opinion about things political. We love this candidate or hate that one. We think this laws is great or we think it will lead to destruction. We talk about it to others. Our elders can hear these conversations and may even take part. The fear is that this can unfairly sway the votes.
Testing: This is a good idea to a degree. Some patients won’t need it. Some become uninterested as their ability to grasp abstract political thought diminishes. Some may need it. Caretakers, including me, may not have the ability to check for problems such as being swayed by conversations or comments from others.
The Doctor: For the moment, since we don’t have anything concrete to go by, asking the patient’s doctor is the best thing to do. The doctor who diagnosed the dementia and has kept in contact with the patient should be the one making the judgment. This is about as independent as we can get.
Taking the right to vote away from anyone is a difficult decision. While our elders have unique and valuable insights when it comes to politics, it’s important to make sure they don’t become political pawns.