People with dementia who are struggling to manage their finances may be more likely to share their personal financial details with strangers, the author of new research says.

Most of us have little trouble managing our finances. We can pay our bills, set up direct debits, use cash with ease, buy items online with a credit card, and pay our taxes.

These transactions are easy enough for most of us much of the time – but they actually involve complex thinking and high-level cognitive skills, such as memory, problem solving, and attention.

It’s not surprising then to discover that older people, especially those living with dementia, often struggle to keep on top of their finances.

Research has shown that financial management is often one of the first skills to deteriorate when someone has dementia, and it often begins to occur even before a person has been diagnosed.

Those who fall often, or move slowly, may struggle to manage their finances: research

According to new research, if a person has problems solving tasks, with language, or if they fall frequently, or move slowly, they are more likely to struggle to manage their finances.

Those struggling to manage finances more prone to financial abuse

One author of the research, Clarissa Giebel, says those who are experiencing trouble managing their finances could also be more prone to financial abuse.

“When people with dementia struggle using internet or telephone banking, they may be more prone to telling strangers their bank details,” she wrote in The Conversation.

“Older people, including people with dementia, can often be subject to financial exploitation. This can be through online or telephone scamming, or knocking on someone’s door trying to selling something.”

A few weeks ago, in HelloCare we wrote about 86-year old Joan Ford, who was issued with electricity bills to the value of more than $4,000, even though she lives in a nursing home and her electricity was already paid for. Her family suspected that a sales agent cold-called Ms Ford, who has early stage dementia, and signed her up to an account.

Understanding that people with dementia may be struggling to manage their finances, and therefore may be more likely to share their personal details with a stranger, casts Ms Ford’s situation in a new light.

How can we help those living with dementia to manage their finances?

There are ways we can help those living with dementia to manage their finances – and therefore also go some way to protecting them from financial abuse.

  • Set up direct debits where possible.
  • Make sure their home is easy to move around to prevent falls. The research found that those who fell more often had greater trouble managing their finances.
  • Enable people to stay at home for as long as possible, in an environment where they are comfortable and happy.
  • Encourage them to retain their independence in as many aspects of their life as possible.
  • It may eventually be necessary to arrange a power of attorney to take care of financial decisions. Dementia is a degenerative condition, so while we can help someone manage their finances for a time, it may not always be possible.
  • Ideally talk to family about how the person wishes to manage their finances – and in particular how they want to pay for care when they get older – before they have dementia.
  • Be alert to the fact that people with dementia may be more vulnerable to financial abuse.
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