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Money and dementia

Coming to grips with a new diagnosis of dementia can be a challenging time – particularly for finances.

More than 436,000 Australians are now living with dementia, with more than 250 new cases every day, according to Dementia Australia.

These figures are expected to increase as the population ages, reaching 590,000 in 10 years and almost 1.1 million by 2058.

Dementia Australia runs a Living with Dementia program to assist people and their families to understand what the future may hold and the support that is available. The program also covers topics such as driving, practical strategies, and relationships and communication.

In 2019, Dementia Australia will be partnering with Senior Rights Victoria in a pilot program designed to help people newly diagnosed with dementia to plan ahead in other ways.

Senior Rights Victoria will be holding a series of legal information sessions and clinics to assist people to make informed choices about their future financial, health or care arrangements, as well as providing information on how to put those choices into an appropriate legal format.

The Victorian not-for-profit organisation will support the delivery of the session on Advanced Care Planning and Powers of Attorney within the Living with Dementia program and offer standalone one-off community education sessions.

It will also provide a number of legal clinics for people who have attended a session to provide one-on-one legal and advocacy consultations.


Helping protect the vulnerable

Rebecca Edwards, principal lawyer, Senior Rights Victoria, says this approach will ensure legal education and advice is based on therapeutic principles and an empowerment approach for the older person, including the provision of support for non-legal issues facing the individual.

“It will also allow us to screen for elder abuse,” she adds.

Edwards says the link between cognitive impairment and elder abuse is well established.

Elder abuse is any behaviour or action within a relationship of trust that harms an older person. It can include financial, psychological, physical, sexual, social abuse, and neglect.

Australian research estimates that up to 10 per cent of older people experience some form of elder abuse. Recent research has also found elder abuse prevalence rates among guardianship clients of 13 per cent in 2013-14 and 21 per cent in 2016-17.


Keeping finances safe

Elder financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of an older person’s property, finances and other assets without their informed consent; or, if there is consent, where it is obtained by fraud, manipulation, or duress.

It can include something as simple as going shopping for someone and keeping their change or using their bank account or credit card without their consent. It can also include a loan that is not paid back. Or it can involve pressure to go guarantor for a loan; transfer or sell property; or to give money away.

Often, elder financial abuse is perpetrated by someone the older person trusts such as a family member, friend, neighbour or a person who has been authorised to manage their money and financial affairs.

A Power of Attorney can provide protection if a person loses capacity to manage their own financial affairs. It can include limits such as withholding the power to sell your home.

Although less common, a person with dementia could be targeted by a person they come into contact with who takes advantage of their vulnerability.

Warning signs of possible elder financial abuse can include difficulty paying bills; unexplained disappearances of someone’s possessions; significant bank withdrawals or unusual activity on their credit card or bank statement. A change in demeanour or social withdrawal can also be other indicators.

The pilot program will begin in 2019 and run for a year.