PhotoBeing able to keep track of your money and expenses is extremely important when you become an adult. Wasteful or unwise spending can be especially damaging if you’re on a fixed income, which is typical for many older Americans. Unfortunately, many people in the later stages of life end up having these problems – but why?

Two experts in the field of “elder abuse” may know the cause, and they coin it as “age-associated financial vulnerability,” or AAFV. They believe that identifying older people that have AAFV is extremely important so that they are not taken advantage of.

Changes in behavior and cognition

The experts, Duke Han and Mark Lachs – associate professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center and co-chief of geriatrics and gerontology at Weill Medical College, respectively – classify AAFV as “a pattern of financial behavior that places an older adult at substantial risk for considerable loss of resources such that dramatic changes in quality of life would result.”

Basically, an older person with AAFV will consider and make financial decisions that they would not have made when they were younger. For example, giving thousands of dollars to a neighbor that they have never loaned money to in the past may be a sign of AAFV. However, if they were more apt to loan large sums of money to people in their younger years, then it may not be AAFV. The important distinguisher is the change in behavior.

There are some physical changes that can contribute to AAFV as well. “Functional changes such as impaired mobility, vision and hearing loss, and the cost of multiple medications can directly influence vulnerability in older adults,” said Han. Some cognitive impairments, such as lessened ability to discern a person’s trustworthiness, depression, and other psychosocial problems can also increase an elderly person’s vulnerability.

The authors are quick to note, however, that AAFV is not the same as other age-related cognitive impairments like dementia, where a victim is more likely to act erratically due to changed brain function. They believe that “cognitive impairment is not necessary for AAFV,” so even a seemingly well-functioning elderly person may be at risk.

Addressing the issue

Han and Lachs believe that many financial institutions look at the elderly community as an “untapped market”, and that is why they target them. “In my discussions with Dr. Lachs about our experiences with the heart-breaking effects of the financial vulnerability among our older patients, we decided that naming the problem may be a useful first step to addressing the issue,” said Han.

In order to combat this problem, Han and Lachs believe that it is important for AAFV to be classified as a real condition for the elderly community. Keeping track of individuals who change their spending behaviors would go a long way towards stopping financial exploitation in this age bracket – which Han says is the most common type of elder abuse.

“This is a growing problem since we have a large aging population with no ways to determine who is at risk and why,” said Han. “We need more screening, and more interventional programs and strategies to address this issue. We also need to determine what the role and responsibility is of physicians in protecting their patients.”

The authors have posted their opinions in an issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, which was published on October 13, 2015.  

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