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February 16, 2011

Damage Prevention and Control for Financial Incapacity

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Commission on Law and Aging, American Bar Association, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 2011;305(7):707-708. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.187

A virtually universal policy and practice quandary in an aging society is how to prevent the risks attendant to a loss of capacity—whether involving a loved one, a patient, a client, a neighbor, or other member of the community. Professionals, including physicians, lawyers, and bankers, report that they struggle to define their appropriate roles, if any, in dealing with an older person's diminished capacity, particularly at the nexus of financial matters. Because financial capacity is among the first to decline in individuals with emerging cognitive impairments, it can be the canary in the coal mine of impending dementia. Moreover, the consequences of ignoring these declines can be catastrophic for individuals and families. Of special concern is the risk of financial abuse and exploitation. A 2009 study of financial elder abuse by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University estimated the annual loss by survivors of elder financial abuse to be at least $2.6 billion.1 That kind of financial damage on the personal level directly affects the viability of housing, independence, health, and well-being.