Instances of dementia in the countryside have sparked concerns farmers are increasingly reluctant to ask for help and are often ill-prepared for the future.
Research from Plymouth University with support from Seale Hayne Educational Trust and the Farming Community Network, which interviewed 16 farmers across Devon to address dementia in farming and rural communities, found farmers often had concerns about the future of their farm but were hesitant to take steps to address them.
Experts raised concerns the ’growing health problem’ is expected to fall on rural areas as farmers increasingly desire to continue work long after the retirement age.
Dr Claire Kelly, who undertook the research, said farming and the farm itself were more than ‘merely business interests’ but were an important part of lifestyle and identity – something those with dementia often struggle to upkeep.
She said: “There is justifiable fear that a diagnosis of dementia can lead to the loss of the farm, the home and everything that is familiar.
“Taking over financial responsibility for the farm can take many months to sort out if someone becomes incapacitated but in the meantime, the farm needs to continue to function as a business, so fodder needs to be bought, animals bought and sold, etc. which can be very difficult if the farm business is solely in the name of the person living with dementia.”
Dr Kelly urged farmers to consider wider family plans, including steps to hand on the business and keep legal documents up-to-date, and outline proposals for when the farm could no longer be managed.
The research was backed by John-Paul Dennis, solicitor at Merseyside-based law-firm Kirwans, who said he regularly looks for farmers hoping to safeguard their business.
He praised the research for highlighting the ’very real problems that are happening right now’ and encouraged farmers to prepare for ill-health or death.
He said: “Plans to hand over financial responsibility for the farm can indeed take months to put in place if the owner becomes unable to act for themselves, and in that time businesses can easily go under.
"That is why it is so important to make arrangements long before they appear to be needed, so that should the worst happen, the farm is able to continue operating as a business.”
Mr Dennis set out the five most important legalities farmers should prepare in order to safeguard their farms: