We hear and read a lot of commentary about the challenges that Ireland’s ageing population is posing to the state old-age pension scheme and indeed to pension policymakers. The statistics are indeed quite frightening as we see the scale of the growing population of elderly people being dependent on a smaller workforce. There was a shade under 630,000 people aged over 65 in Ireland in 2016. This is estimated to increase to 1.6million people over 65 in Ireland in 2051.
With this increase in ageing, there is likely to be a corresponding increase in people with dementia. According to Irishhealth.com, an estimated 55,000 people are currently living with dementia in Ireland, the most common form of which is Alzheimer’s disease. This number is expected to more than double to 113,000 by 2036. I’m one of the half a million people in Ireland who have had a family member with dementia, yet despite this widespread experience, research tells us that only one in four of us is confident that we understand dementia.
To look after your clients properly, you need to understand dementia.
Physical ailments don’t impact your client’s ability to make sound decisions about their finances. Dementia does impact this ability, with symptoms that can include memory loss, confusion, difficulties communicating and behaviour change.
These symptoms and the ensuing impacts of a loss of control, vulnerability and worry both for the person with dementia and their family / carers, require very careful and skilled attention from financial planners. Dementia requires a very well-structured, clear and empathetic approach.
When a client suffers from dementia, the financial planner is a critically important contributor in the life of the person him/herself and their family. You play a really important role as money is often a major concern for everyone – they want to ensure there is enough money to provide the best care possible for all of the sufferer’s life. Family members also want to ensure that the vulnerability of the sufferer is not exploited by anyone – having an impartial planner acting in the best interests of the sufferer provides a lot of comfort here.
It’s never too early to find out
Dealing with dementia starts with education of your client. Every client should know that if they or their spouse are ever worried that they are slipping mentally, or indeed receive a diagnosis of dementia, one of their first phone calls should be to you. Giving you an early awareness of this future change in their life enables you to help them plan effectively for it.
There are early steps to take
Your role will be very gentle and in the background before your client’s mental capacity really begins to diminish. However you can help them enormously at this stage, by helping them with some good financial practices. One of the first advices that you can give them is to immediately put an Enduring Power of Attorney in place, to allow a trusted relative manage their affairs when their mental capacity necessitates it. This doesn’t “hand over control” today, just when needed in the future. Of course you can play a valuable role with your client by providing them with a 2nd opinion if requested in relation to their choice of attorney. It can be very useful for you to be introduced to the appointed attorney too. After all, both of you have been chosen by your client to help them manage their financial affairs as effectively as possible.
Also you can guide your client in relation to bank accounts, making sure that if they were to quickly lose their capacity, that their money would be accessible. This may be as simple as ensuring spouses have access to each other’s bank accounts. Relatively straightforward actions such as these will save a lot of stress and challenge down the road.
Become part of the client’s team
While you will have no role in the actual physical care of your client, in your role as their financial planner you should be watching their back at every turn. This includes working collaboratively with others in their interests, of course with your client’s permission. Seek introductions to their solicitor, accountant and tax adviser. While each of you retains full responsibility for your own areas of expertise, it is useful if the client starts “slipping” mentally for everyone on the client’s team to be aware of this. Early warning can be useful in the early stages of dementia, when some subtle changes and symptoms can be easily dismissed and potentially poor decisions made.
Be active with the sufferer’s spouse / family
People caring for dementia sufferers are usually entering a whole new world too. They’re dealing with unfamiliar challenges and a very uncertain future in unchartered waters for them. They are facing a lot of big decisions that they don’t feel particularly well-equipped to make. While a lot of these decisions are about care, many of them have financial angles or implications too. You can play a very important role in helping clients navigate these decisions.
Clients with dementia and their families need you. Are you ready to step up to the plate and help them?