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Professor Researching the Brain to Find Location of Financial Competency Issues

The National Institute on Aging has announced that scientists are now using magnetic resonance imaging of the brain to examine those parts associated with money managing abilities. Because aging makes seniors more vulnerable with financial decisions, those with Alzheimer’s or dementia are at special risk—even in the early stages.

“Can we actually see a picture of this?” asks Forbes in its article, “Will Brain Images Tell You If Your Aging Parent Can’t Handle Money Any More?”

The NIA report cites a prominent researcher, neuropsychologist and lawyer, Dr. Daniel Marson, who says that it’s “the $18.1 trillion problem.” Dr. Marson, a professor of neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is referring to an estimate of household wealth held by U.S. adults age 65 and older.

Although they haven’t yet found a way to pinpoint an exact spot in the brain that says a person is or isn’t competent with finances, the report details the efforts using MRIs to find out more about the brain and financial capacity. The professor says that changes in some parts of the brain are linked to loss of financial capacity.

The report also cites director Nina Silverberg, who commented that “Novel neuroimaging studies, along with studies involving cognitive measures, are providing intriguing data on why older adults—even those who were previously quite savvy about finances—may lose their money-managing abilities.” Silverberg is the program director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers at NIA’s Division of Neuroscience.

Here are some takeaways to help with an aging parent who has signs of dementia or related illness:

When the first indications of a memory issue arise with your loved one, try to be more involved in monitoring their spending and money management. Get online access to their bank accounts—even if you just watch what comes in and goes out. That way you can intervene if a problem arises.

You can also offer to pay bills for your aging parents, and it may even be a relief for them. Handling money can be confusing when a parent declines cognitively, serving as a sign of cerebral impairment.

Get to know your aging parent’s financial advisor, attorney and others involved in his or her financial life, and ask your parent for written permission to talk with them. A notarized power of attorney or a letter granting you access to financial information would be required. Tell these professionals about any concerns you have and keep in touch. An ethical professional will want what is best for the client.

A piece of that $18.1 trillion Dr. Marson cited may include some of your potential inheritance, so you’ll want to act to help preserve it. Don’t assume that if your aging parent is okay now that it will stay that way. Even without the science, you should realize that some folks will experience cognitive disorders as they get older—your aging parents just might need your help now and in the future.

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