Cognitive decline and dementia make it difficult for older Americans to
manage their own finances. This is particularly true because of the plethora
of new banking technologies that make remembering passwords, complicated
security codes, and pins more essential than ever before.
Alzheimer’s disease, which affects one in eight Americans over the
age of 65, is the most common cause of dementia, a decline in memory and
cognitive abilities that interferes with daily life. This decline also
makes Alzheimer’s patients more susceptible to financial abuse and
Millions of Americans, many with dementia, fall victim to financial fraud
and abuse each year. People with dementia are at increased risk for financial
abuse because of:
• Difficulties judging risk;
• Difficulties understanding complex strategies;
• Solitary living environments;
• Reliance on professionals, friends, and family for many of life’s
• Reduced ability to spot deceit;
• Declining ability to remember financial information; and
• Declining ability to process visual information.
Additionally, an increasing fear of poverty, especially in today’s
market, often causes people with dementia to fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes.
“The fact that dementia is a progressive condition has particular
implications when it comes to managing money. There is often a slow deterioration
in the person’s ability to carry out tasks such as paying bills,
dealing with paperwork, or making decisions about property and investment,”
stated a Dec. 2011 Alzheimer’s Society report, titled “Short
Changed: Protecting people with dementia from financial abuse.”
What You Can Do:
Talk to your loved one about financial abuse. Protecting your loved one from financial abuse starts with talking to
them about their current financial status, their current mental status,
and the reality of financial abuse. “The difficulty of discussing
financial issues was one of the most common problems raised by professionals
undertaking safeguarding work with people with dementia,” stated
the Alzheimer’s Society report. “Finances are often seen as
a personal or private matter for most of people, and many are reluctant
to admit they are having difficulties, or have been scammed or similar.
Without these discussions, however, practitioners found it hard to talk
with families. Being able to ask relatives the right questions can help
to detect signs that someone is at risk.”
Prevent cold-calling. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed for the Alzheimer’s Society
report said the person they cared for had been approached or cold-called
with unsolicited financial offers. This increases the risk that they will
fall prey to a scam. Consider adding your loved one’s phone number
to the National Do-Not-Call List. For information on what calls are covered
and how to get on the list, visit the
Federal Trade Commission’s website.
Monitor accounts. More than three-fourths of people with dementia experience difficulties
managing their money, but most want to stay involved in their finances
for as long as possible. Even if you’re not taking over all of your
loved one’s financial transactions yet, find out if they’d
be okay with you checking for suspicious activity. Then, monitor statements
and online accounts on at least a monthly basis, and make sure to look
for unauthorized transactions, large withdrawals, and suspicious activity.
Report any problems. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, about five cases of
elder abuse go unreported for every one reported case. While there isn’t
a federal agency that handles abuse cases, you can – and should
– report elder financial abuse to your state agency.
Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website for links and contact information.