Michael Berton, a Senior Financial Planner with Assante Financial Management in Vancouver, knew his client’s mental faculties were slipping when he started getting weekly phone calls.

“One of my clients would call every week to ask if she had any money left. She had over $800,000 in her accounts so there was no reason for her to be concerned,” he recalls. But the experience was enough for him to call her daughter, who had power of attorney.

       ReadDealing with mental incapacity

“I checked if her mother had enough money in her accounts or if she needed to pay additional expenses. The daughter assured me she was fine and that she’s just forgetful these days,” he says.

Aging clients with the potential for cognitive decline are an increasing reality for advisors. Berton, who specializes in financial services for the 55-plus crowd, was well prepared for his client’s change in mental ability. Being ready means encouraging your clients to talk about their potential health concerns, getting paperwork such as wills and the power of attorney in place, and having a plan to adjust their investment mix to reduce risk.

And preparation isn’t just about the clients. Advisors need to understand how demographic trends will impact their business and what cognitive decline looks like.

The demographic reality

The aging population in Canada cannot be avoided. Ninety years ago, only 5% of Canadians were 65 years or older. In 2009, the percentage increased to 14%, and will continue to grow over the next 30 years as baby boomers turn 65. Only 25 years from now, roughly a quarter of the population of Canada—about 10 million—will be seniors, according to Statistics Canada.

In addition to demographic trends, advances in medicine and healthcare are allowing people to live longer lives. In fact, one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in Canada is people over the age of 100. While living longer is a welcome thing for many, one downside is a rise in susceptibility to chronic disease. Diabetes and arthritis will be common physical problems, but more important for advisors are health problems that affect mental ability.

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, unless a cause or cure is found by 2038, 1.1 million Canadians will suffer from dementia. Advisors who serve seniors will need to be aware of the possibility that some of their clients will experience dementia, or at the very least, some kind of mild cognitive decline.

Age-related cognitive decline is not an all-or-nothing event. A client will not come in one day having lost all faculties. It happens slowly and can be easy to dismiss or ignore. Like other health issues, it is worth knowing the indicators that something is wrong. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (U.S.), warning signs include:

  • Forgetting recently learned information such as appointment dates
  • Asking for the same details repeatedly and not remembering them later
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems, such as keeping track of monthly bills
  • Poor judgment, especially when dealing with money
  • Withdrawing from social activities or paying less attention to a favourite sports team
  • Changes in mood with an increase in confusion, suspicion, depression, fear and anxiety

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