It’s estimated that more than six million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's dementia today. This number could more than double by 2060 if medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or cure the disease aren’t developed.1 Given the aging U.S. population, these statistics may not be particularly startling; however, they should serve as a wake-up call for financial advisors.
The first Baby Boomers reached 65 years old 10 years ago, and their numbers have grown rapidly by about a third since then, faster than any other age group.2 So the odds are good that a number of your clients fall in this group. A certain percentage of them may encounter a degree of diminished capacity, which could impact their financial decision-making. Since client-advisor relationships often span years, noticing shifts in client behaviors could be a tip-off that advisors need to adjust their approach to service.
Are you prepared to assist clients with impairments such as cognitive decline or dementia?
Being aware of what to look for and practical next steps will help you be sensitive and responsive to client needs during what can be a difficult transition.
Signs of Potential Cognitive Impairment
Trouble handling finances or muddling could be an indicator of age-related cognitive impairment, but it’s not the only one. Advisors should be familiar with other signs clients might exhibit, including3:
- Memory loss that may evidence itself in frequently misplacing items, multiple phone calls to your office making similar requests or forgetting appointments and recent events
- Difficulty comprehending familiar concepts or tasks, including those they previously understood well
- Confusion about where they are, events or timelines
- Unusual emotional distress, stubbornness or changes in personality
- Decreased or poor judgment, such as falling for scams, poor money management, not taking care of personal hygiene, etc.
- Difficulty judging spatial relations or visual images, resulting in more frequent falls or balance issues
- Difficulty communicating, finding words or joining in on conversations
- Withdrawing from social events, not attending church or avoiding getting together with friends or family
Advisor Action Steps
Not all confusion should be attributed to age-related mental decline. Physical conditions such as hearing loss, for example, may make it difficult for some clients to fully engage. Jumping to conclusions about a client’s mental fitness may not be appropriate, but it’s important that advisors do not completely dismiss signs of new or escalating impairment.
Advisor proactivity is crucial for engaging clients in finance-related information gathering, conversations, decision-making and advanced planning:
- Verify and document the power of attorney (POA). This information is essential for eventual next steps.
- Build a relationship with your client’s immediate family or designated emergency contact. If you’re concerned about your client, consider sharing your observations so appropriate action can be taken by the family, if necessary.
- Encourage your clients to invite family members to meetings in order to witness and document discussions and gain firsthand knowledge of your client’s financial wishes and decisions.
- Routinely meet with your client to draft/review/update financial plans and documents including power of attorney, durable power of attorney, standard will, living will/medical directives and trust directives.
- Build a professional network of experts who specialize in aging — such as elder law attorneys, geriatric care managers, behavioral specialists, etc. — who you could recommend as resources to your clients or their caregivers should the need arise.
Aging is a natural part of life, and some of your clients may require additional assistance from you as they grow older. Being prepared to handle the tough financial conversations and necessary details is essential and will likely prove invaluable to your clients — and you.
Aging may also stir up emotions that could cloud clients’ decision-making and impact their financial security if advisors don’t help them navigate their feelings. A Behavioral Finance Approach to investing may be a helpful way to address their needs. Click the button below to access our Behavioral Finance Advice resources and use them to form deeper relationships with your clients based on their core values and goals.
1PubMed.gov, 2021 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures, 2021.
2Census.gov, 65 and Older Population Grows Rapidly as Baby Boomers Age, June 25, 2020.
3CDC.gov, 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s, December 13, 2019.