Adding to America’s looming retirement crisis are millions of elderly consumers who won't be able to resist the influences of slick marketing campaigns, high-pressure sales tactics and investment scams.
Because their brains won’t be working like they used to.
Already some five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. That number will increase dramatically as baby boomers reach old age. The National Institutes of Health says that one in seven of all Americans age 71 and older will have some type of dementia, mostly Alzheimer’s.
People with dementia start having financial problems almost immediately. A report in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry shows that people even in the very early stages of degenerative brain disease already have significant trouble with basic money matters, from paying bills to just counting their change. They can’t make sense of their bank statements. Even worse, they tend to fall for fraud schemes that might have been obvious to them a few years earlier.
"Patients lose the ability to size up the situation," said Daniel Marson, director of the University of Alabama-Birmingham's Alzheimer's Disease Center told USA Today. “And before you know it, they've made a sizable donation."
It’s not like the growing elderly population has a good relationship with money to begin with. Almost half of Middle America says it has extreme difficulty understanding most financial information.
Experts urge families to create powers of attorney so they can take control of financial decisions as the disease gets worse. That’s good advice, assuming the family doesn’t clean out grandma's savings account -- and that's a whole other issue.
But it’s not the whole answer. Millions of demented seniors and their families will need a strong safety net that includes public policy, marketing standards, stiff penalties for fraud, and more resources for financial literacy, planning and support.
Because anyone who thinks the marketplace won’t do everything it can to profit from America’s most vulnerable consumers is out of their mind.
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