Aging Clients and Dementia

November 25, 2014

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

We are worried a client of ours might be in the early stages of dementia. He is not married and has no children. Two of our advisors have been working with him and notice his strange behavior. He repeats himself and asks the same questions several times in a meeting. He is retired so we have no employer to speak with about our concern. His accountant is very old himself and does not always return our phone calls. How do we address this issue sensitively and most effectively?

Todd C.
Dear Todd,

Advisors already have to be adept financial managers and, often, counselors and relationship therapists too. If this wasn’t hard enough, with aging clients we have to be psychiatrists and caretakers, too. This is somewhat new territory for many advisors, but with the aging population such issues will arise more frequently.

I know your client is already showing signs of possible dementia, but I encourage you – and other advisors reading this column – to address mental health with your clients early on, long before they have symptoms when possible. It makes sense to talk about the possibility of dementia just as you would discuss assigning a health care proxy should your client become physically incapacitated. While most people do not like to think about the obvious eventualities, they have to plan for them by buying life insurance and assigning proxies for declining health.  Mental health issues later in life are becoming increasingly common, so discussing them in this way should be a part of the planning process too. If your client has children, nieces and nephews or a spouse, you might involve them in the discussion. Tell future clients about the situation you are now encountering to illustrate the importance of having a plan.

With this client, you don’t mention if he has a lawyer or whether there is a health care proxy in place. If so, you could reach out and talk to them. If the client still has some lucid moments, which it sounds like he does, you may want to gingerly bring up that you’re concerned. Tell him you see changes in his behavior and you are worried about his ability to make the best decisions. Let him know your job is to look out for him. Take the chance to talk about legal planning, trusts and proxies. If he does not have them in place, find him a lawyer you can work with to get this settled. You can offer to work with a lawyer to prepare a financial power of attorney, authorizing someone to take care of financial matters like bill paying and negotiating with their bank.

If the client will give you consent to do so, you could ask if there is an emergency contact or ask to be introduced to his doctor to discuss your concerns. Learn more about whether there are medical issues like medication he may be taking that could be leading to the behavior. You would, of course, need his written consent. This starts to get into privacy territory and, as I’m not a lawyer, I cannot advise about the laws and regulations here.

This is going to be a continuing trend and I encourage advisors and lawyers with experience on this issue to write and let us know what you have done.

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