Dealing with Elderly Clients

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues.  To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

Here is a tricky one for you. What do you do when your client base is largely made up of elderly people and they are starting to fail – especially mentally? I have a number of clients who seem to be suffering from early dementia and memory loss. I don’t want to be offensive to them, but I don’t trust they even understand what I am saying sometimes about their financial situation. How do I deal with this?

Gary B, Boston MA

Dear Gary,

It sometimes seems that in addition to education in finance and economics, advisors should be trained in psychology! You are right when you say this is a “tricky one.” There are a few layers to your question. The first is that it underscores the importance of bringing the next generation into the picture early in the relationship. Some advisors make it mandatory to meet the next generation when they first start working with a client who is 50 years or older. You want to know the children and keep in touch with them so that you could reach out and convey your concerns and have them engaged in how to deal with it. But not all advisors have this relationship and not all clients have children who are involved.

If the person is in otherwise good health, but just seems a bit confused at times you might want to focus on communicating differently with them. Non-verbal communication, such as body language, voice tone and facial expressions relay great amounts of information to the cognitively impaired adult. When people start to have difficulty processing, verbal communication can be difficult to digest. You want to speak more slowly, show pictures, watch body language, etc. when interacting with them. Of course you would also follow up with them more frequently to check-in, and have more in-person meetings. If the client is failing rapidly, the next step is to collect information from the client about their doctor and other medical professionals. Explain that, again, this is to ensure that you have relationships with everyone who matters in their circle of experts.

You can also bring up the value of a health care power of attorney (POA) or letter of attorney so you have authorization to represent your client or act on their behalf if there are no family members to provide this support. Lastly, read everything you can on dementia so that you become trained in recognizing the signs, the seriousness and the right steps to take. Every situation is going to be different.

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