Can Caregivers Help Seniors with Money?
When once-simple financial tasks become difficult or confusing, it can be the canary in the coal mine signaling that an elderly person is developing dementia.
Financial problems will soon follow once people with cognitive impairment start miscalculating and missing payments, forgetting and misplacing accounts, or falling victim to fraud.
But some good news has come out of a new study of Medicare recipients: the vast majority of the 5.5 million people over 65 with established dementia – usually, though not always, Alzheimer’s disease – are receiving help from family and other caregivers with balancing their checkbooks, depositing and withdrawing money, and conducting transactions.
Even better, they are actually benefitting from it. The seniors who receive assistance are more likely to be able to pay for their essential expenses like rent, food, prescriptions and utilities, according to researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which also sponsors this blog.
There was bad news in the report too: a nontrivial share of the older Americans with established dementia – that is, dementia for at least three years – aren’t getting any help. This problem is expected to grow in future generations. One major reason is longer and longer life spans, which exponentially increase the risk of dementia. Nearly one in three people over 85 are in some stage of dementia. Compounding this is the fact that today’s older workers have fewer children and have divorced more, which shrank the pool of who would be willing to pitch in and help them.
Having a caregiver helping with money management wouldn’t necessarily make an elderly person better off financially. Suppose a daughter is unfamiliar with her mother’s finances or a husband isn’t good at managing his own money. In extreme cases, caregivers sometimes steal from the trusting seniors in their care. Even so, it turns out that it’s better to receive help than not.
The researchers find that financial assistance virtually eliminates the ill effects of dementia on the elderly’s financial condition. It’s important to point out that they controlled for factors that can enhance someone’s financial savvy, such as education and wealth – people with more money can afford professional help, for example.
Dementia sufferers who don’t get any assistance remain at risk, however. Their family or friends may want to consider some good alternatives, such as the financial services offered by state and local Area Agencies on Aging or the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Representative Payee Program.
The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.