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What to Do When Your Client Has Serious Memory Problems


Have you ever found yourself in a situation with an older client who can’t seem to remember anything any more? You may have known the client over a number of years and feel responsible. But you are at a loss now. What are you supposed to do with this client? She’s pleasant and just loves you. But you are worried.

You are pretty sure your client is experiencing a slow, but steady cognitive decline. She has a daughter in another state but maybe she isn’t paying attention to what is going on with mom. She has a son she’s not close to, though he lives in the same area she does. You asked her once if she had someone to be her agent, her power of attorney. She hadn’t gotten around to that yet.

No one acts. No one insists that your client choose a relative or friend and sign the Durable Power of Attorney document. She says he doesn’t want to talk about it and you just back off and never mention it again. You suspect she may have Alzheimer’s disease, from your experience with your own family member.

Here is what can happen to your client.

She steadily loses judgment about what is a good thing to spend money on or invest in; therefore, bad decisions happen. We have observed savvy and intelligent clients who were once financially comfortable start falling for obvious scams. They buy worthless coins or stamps or fly-by-night property investments that take their money and disappear. Perhaps no one knows because the elder is in the secrecy habit. Time passes and the client’s cognitive ability declines even more. There is no stopping dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease.   The predators find an easy mark. As long as there is cash to spend or credit cards to run up, the elder keeps getting into deeper and deeper trouble. Unquestionably, financial decimation can result.

These situations are real. Here at, we’re in the consulting business. We have talked to the families of elders who have probably been impaired for years, hearing them say they wished someone had done something sooner. No one but the financial professional knew what the client had nor where his money was going. The family thought the elder’s finances were fine. Now, with too much drained out by excessive giving, the family may well end up having to support their aging relative just at the time when extensive care is needed and the expense of it skyrockets.

How do you prevent the worst?

By engaging in discussion with your client’s family or appointed other early in your relationship. If you have an ongoing connection with that trusted person in your client’s life, you stand a better chance of protecting her from dumb and destructive decisions if her mind starts to go, later on in life. Even if you can’t imagine how a perfectly alert, intelligent person could get dementia, it happens to millions of people as they live longer. 5.6 million of them are diagnosed with the disease right now in the U.S. alone. The risk rises with age.

If you have never had conversations with your older clients’ families, now is the time to start. You need to educate your client about the importance of having someone else named by her for you to reach out to if she gets sick or has an accident.

You need to develop the skill of conducting family meetings while each client is fully competent. Even if a client has a few memory lapses now it is not too late to have a meeting with family to figure out the path forward in case of trouble ahead. This is a “soft skill” every advisor needs. If you want to learn how to conduct a family meeting or get better at this, you can learn the techniques in a hour.

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