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Spotting Signers Who May Suffer From Dementia

Notaries working in healthcare or senior living facilities often interact with patients suffering from dementia — a malady that diminishes a person’s ability to sign and understand documents. To ensure your notarizations are sound, it’s important to understand the effects this condition could have on your signers.

Dementia Defined

Generally caused by the gradual deterioration of brain cells, dementia is a mental condition that affects a person’s memory and communication skills. Many associate dementia with the elderly or Alzheimer’s disease, but according to FamilyDoctor.org, dementia can also be caused by head injuries, strokes or brain tumors. Symptoms include:

  • Forgetting simple words or other difficulty communicating
  • Confusion about where the person is or what the time and date are
  • Sudden, drastic mood changes
  • Difficulty with tasks like understanding numbers
  • Trouble remembering recent events, or repeating the same question over and over

Spotting The Warning Signs

Speak with your signer for a few minutes and ask questions to see if they are aware of their surroundings and understand what is taking place. You can ask, “Can you tell me what this document is and why you are signing it?” or “Can you tell me what time it is now?” If the signer is unable to answer questions clearly, gives incorrect answers, becomes agitated or remains unresponsive, there is likely a problem.

Next Steps

If the signer appears confused or unaware, halt the notarization. It may be possible to reschedule the notarization for another time when the signer is coherent and aware. However, do not proceed if the signer continues to show signs of confusion or other mental problems.

2 Comments

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Susan Tomasovich

12 May 2015

I am a notary that works in a memory care facility. I have had to deny notarizing for one of our residents. He has Alzheimer's and his sister really needs to be power of attorney and needs to be on his checking account. What should she do to make this happen?

National Notary Association

12 May 2015

Hello Susan. Nonattorney Notaries can't advise signers on legal matters. The signer would need to contact an attorney for assistance.

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