Financial abuse of dementia sufferers is rife, warns charity

Social care professionals have been urged to look out for indicators of financial abuse among people with dementia after Alzheimer's Society warned that the problem was rife among the client group. (Image: REX features)

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Social care professionals have been urged to look out for indicators of financial abuse among people with dementia after Alzheimer’s Society warned that the problem was rife among the client group.

Fifteen per cent of carers polled by the charity said the person with dementia they cared for had been financially abused, while 62% of carers said their loved-one had been targeted by unsolicited or unscrupulous cold callers or sales people.

In a report published today, Short changed, Alzheimer’s Society said people with dementia were at increased risk of financial abuse because of isolation, reduced capacity to assess financial risk and reliance on others to manage their money.

This was exacerbated by problems in the financial system, including a lack of awareness among banking staff of the signs of dementia and of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which enables people to manage money on behalf of loved-ones under lasting power of attorney arrangements.

It also said that the rise of chip and PIN, online banking and other personal banking systems that required customers to remember passwords and codes risked increasing financial exclusion for people with dementia.

The report said social workers and other professionals needed to be aware of the increased risks of financial abuse facing people with dementia and the warnings signs. Alzheimer’s Society staff and social care co-ordinators interviewed for the report identified the following risk factors:

  • Significant or sudden changes in a person’s behaviour or living circumstances.
  • Unpaid bills and a lack of food in the house.
  • New interest or involvement from a third party in a person with dementia.
  • The person with dementia showing confusion about the value of money or the bill paying process.
  • Family members moving into the person’s home and taking control of financial issues.

It also said that financial abuse needed to have a much higher profile in local authority safeguarding procedures, citing research that it was often seen as secondary to other forms of abuse by councils.

Professionals supporting adults with dementia also needed to be skilled up in money management, while the report also called for a stronger role for council trading standards departments in protecting people with dementia from cold callers and scams.

Other recommendations included for banks to train staff in identifying the signs of dementia and in provisions in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 on the management of money on behalf of people who lack capacity to do so themselves.

“We are merely scratching the surface of the frightening hidden depths of financial abuse,” said Alzheimer’s Society chief executive Jeremy Hughes. “Too often con artists are dealing another body blow to people who already face high care costs and a society that fails to understand their needs. It’s only by working together with banks, local authorities, and of course the general public that we can turn this around and start the New Year with new hope.’

The report was based on surveys of 47 people with dementia, 104 carers and 86 Alzheimer’s Society staff, and focus groups with service users, carers and professionals including social workers and adult safeguarding co-ordinators.

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