November 2014

payment

5 Signs of Financial Impairment

In a videotaped experiment testing her financial cognition, an elderly woman must prepare three utility bills for mailing. She’s seated at a table holding the bills, along with three filled-out checks, and three envelopes – each with one utility’s name on it.  After considerable effort and confusion – checks paired with the wrong bills; bills placed into the wrong envelopes and taken back out – she finally finishes her task.

New difficulty carrying out simple financial tasks or understanding financial concepts that were once familiar can be warning signs of cognitive impairment due to aging, early stage Alzheimer’s or other causes, said Daniel Marson, a neurology professor and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Financial skills are “the canary in the coal mine from a functional standpoint,” he said. “When you are seeing new problems in the checkbook or arithmetic errors, those are signs of an emerging disability.”

Driving, for example, may not be affected as much early on, because it relies more heavily on motor memory. “You don’t have to think about making a right turn or signaling,” he said.

The chances of having Alzheimer’s disease are slim for most older Americans; only one in nine do. Forgetting to pay a bill is more often just a sign of a bad day, and the inability to balance a checkbook or understand investments is not a warning sign if the person was never able to do so. To gauge whether the cognitive ability of a loved one or client may be in decline, the benchmark should be what he or she was able to do financially in the past – and whether that’s changed over time.

At a recent symposium, “Financial Planning in the Shadows of Dementia,” Marson provided five financial warning signs, developed from his clinical work and research as a neuropsychologist. The warning signs are: …Learn More

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