Few things anger me as much as seeing vulnerable people exploited or abused. Perhaps it comes as no surprise to learn that those with memory impairments are often subjected to exploitation and abuse. This may be physical or emotional, but financial abuse can be as (if not more) devastating to families.
When the pest control company knocked on Anna’s door to offer a free termite inspection, she agreed. When they presented a proposal for thousands of dollars in repairs and pest control, she agreed. Then, they recommended more repairs totaling over $10,000 and she agreed again. After all, she needed to protect her home. When I investigated the matter, I found no evidence of any work ever being done. Fortunately, I was able to compel the company to cancel her service order and refund the fraudulent charges.
Don lived alone and felt increasingly isolated until he received an unsolicited call, possibly a robocall. Large withdrawals and talk of a sudden love interest who lived 1,000 miles away attracted the attention of his adult children, who called me.
By then, Don had sent over a $100,000 to what he believed was a woman in love with him.
Forgetting to shower is more common for seniors with dementia, especially those who live alone. Even if they’ve showered routinely for most of their life, people with memory impairment become complacent…
I alerted the authorities in Texas and directly spoke with a woman who argued that she really was in love with my new client. I later learned that Don was just one of her victims and it was likely she was a small part of a larger scheme. I got the calls to stop, but the money was never returned.
I also have ample stories where my clients had been taken advantage of by family, friends and even caregivers. These are particularly worrisome because these are people in positions of trust and power over those in their care.
I’ve lost track of how many times private caregivers claim to have been given lavish gifts, jewelry or cash, with no ability to prove they hadn’t stolen from their client. I’ve seen at least as many cases where family or friends used their relationships to compel payments to solve made-up problems or solicit loans that will never be repaid.
Perhaps the most frustrating cases I deal with are those where someone with a memory impairment remains in control of their own finances. While many people continue their past behaviors, including frugality, a few suddenly spend recklessly without regard to consequences.
In one case, George borrowed half a million dollars against his paid-for home and started donating it to local charities. His family was in the dark until he complained about the monthly loan payment. Despite all appeals to the bank, the family was handcuffed since George continued to be legally responsible for his own finances.
In another example, Keith decided he wanted to invest in stocks with no understanding of the stock market. He also bought automobiles despite not having a valid driver’s license.
Wandering is one of the more alarming behavioral changes I encounter in my work. It can be harmless in some cases, such as wandering around the house. We’ve likely done this ourselves…
In yet another example, Sherry paid her taxes three times. Fortunately, the government returns overpayments.
In every single case, there are warning signs. Except for the tax overpayment, there also were people assisting with the transactions who should have at least suspected something was amiss.
A 2017 study out of Boston College found that finance-related issues are often one of the first signs of a memory issue. About 80% of people suffering from dementia are simply incapable of managing their money.
Of course, the question is what you and I can do to help our loved ones and keep them safe from financial exploitation and abuse.
One thing we can and should do is help educate our loved ones about rampant phone and email scams. Increasing sophistication from the scammers make it difficult for dementia sufferers to recognize get-rich-quick schemes or blatant attempts at identity theft.
Ultimately, however, the most important thing we can do is to spend time with our loved ones and pay close attention. I recommend that everyone, certainly before any signs of memory impairment, take actions to protect themselves and their loved ones by establishing financial powers of attorney. I also strongly recommend adding a trusted loved one to bank and other financial accounts. This won’t prevent issues, but it will make them easier to notice and resolve when needed.
We are all in this together. We are only as strong as the weakest among us. Join me in helping raise awareness of rampant financial abuse of some of the most vulnerable members of society, especially when they are also the people we’ve loved the longest.
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Lauren Mahakian is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She supports families affected by Alzheimers, dementia, and cognitive disorders through care management services and podcast “Unlocking the Doors of Dementia™ with Lauren,” as well as free support groups, and specialty memory care homes located in Torrance and Solvang. Visit familyconnectmemorycare.com for more information.