Protect Loved Ones with Dementia from Financial Exploitation

    peoplefirst
    Claudine Allen
    Claudine Allen

    Unpaid bills; overpaying or underpaying for service provided; unable to recollect purchases or payments made; an inability to account for money, as well as not making the effort to collect monies owed, are some of the tell-tale signs that a loved one may be experiencing the onset of dementia. This condition exposes them to risk of financial exploitation.

    As cognitive decline is a feature of dementia, the support of a partner, adult children or other relatives and friends becomes critical, as a person with dementia is unable to make sound decisions regarding the management of money.

    Andrea Stennett* related that when her 74 year-old mother was diagnosed with dementia three years ago, she immediately took steps to safeguard her mother’s finances following an incident at an ATM.

    “One day she went to withdraw funds from her account and she couldn’t remember what to do. Someone saw her confusion and came into the booth to assist her.  Luckily, that person was honourable. I took every [banking] card from her,” she disclosed, adding that she only allows her mother to have no more than a thousand dollars, at any time, to take care of small expenses.

    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 50 million people worldwide have dementia and there are nearly 10 million new cases annually. WHO also points out that dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people, globally.

    Claudine Allen, member ombudsman at The Jamaica National Group and general manager of the JN Foundation, urges persons who have loved ones who are beginning to show signs of dementia to start a conversation with them about the future management of their finances.

    “It becomes increasingly difficult for persons with dementia to make prudent financial decisions. Unfortunately, unscrupulous persons take advantage of such situations and that is one of the reasons older persons tend to become victims of scams. They sometimes lose their life savings this way,” she explained.

    Ms Allen pointed out that when loved ones begin to show signs of being unable to do certain banking activities, which they previously managed with ease, intervention is immediately required.

    She outlines the following tips for caregivers, to safeguard the finances of persons with dementia:

    • Check bank accounts, confirm the balance and persons who have access. Look out for fixed deposits and long-term investment accounts
    • Establish a standing order arrangement with the loved one’s financial institution, to take care of monthly obligations, such as mortgage payments
    • Keep track of banking transactions, by using an online banking portal or by visiting the financial institution
    • Arrange for pension payments and other income to be received in a bank account, which is easily accessible
    • Keep all their financial documents, such as insurance policies and credit card statements, in waterproof packaging and store them in a safe place
    • Monitor debit and credit card usage. You may also consider reducing the credit card limit, to decrease exposure in the event that something goes wrong
    • Maintain their independence by allowing them to have some money to keep, even a small amount
    • Identify a responsible, trust-worthy individual to make all important payments, such as mortgages, utilities etc., if possible.

    Ms Allen underscored that where possible, persons with dementia should be involved in the decision making process when it comes to expenditures and caregivers should ensure that they are comfortable with the arrangements.

    “It is important to preserve their sense of usefulness. This can be achieved by allowing them to keep small sums of money and allowing them to take care of small transactions,” she advised.

    The member ombudsman further advised that as part of the conversation regarding the management of their finances is the preparation of a will if one has not already been done.

    “Many times, people associate making a will with death.  It is always advisable to make a will, regardless of your age, so that your wishes concerning your estate can be upheld. Furthermore, making a will helps to safeguard one’s assets,” she affirmed.

    Ms Allen also urges caregivers to pay attention to preserving the quality of life of persons with dementia and to ensure that they receive the proper medical attention necessary, to remain in good health.

    *Not her real name