Most of us probably think we know what to look for in an aging client who has diminished capacity. But have you every studied the subtle signs that should serve as red flags for you? Now is the time to learn more. Too many older clients are among us to ignore the probability that some of them will be too impaired to do business safely.
Indicators of diminished capacity will not always be so obvious to you, particularly if you are interacting with a an aging client and you as a professional are doing most of the talking. You are probably directing the conversation with that client If you have specific questions about a transaction, whether it involves a real estate matter, a legal transaction or case or accounting matter. You could miss the signs that your client is beginning to develop cognitive problems. If you are asking your client, “Do you understand?” and he says “yes” that is not a way to test whether he really did understand or not. You will need to do more if any warning sign pops up when you interact with your client.
Cognitive problems could be developing even if your client is able to answer most of your questions. You won’t spot cognitive decline unless you are looking for the subtle signs that tell you he’s not quite as sharp as you’d like. If you probe a bit more, you may find that your client lacks the judgment to do what you need him to do. Or, he may not be able to appreciate the financial impact of a decision he is asked to make. Things could go wrong if you proceed in the face of these red flags.
When a client is impaired, he can be easily manipulated. He may fear being “found out” that his memory is as bad as it really is and he may try to hide it. He may make dangerous choices or be subject to financial abuse by others.
What should you look for in terms of possible diminished financial capacity in your client?
Here are six warning signs:
1. Short term memory loss: did your client forget his appointment with you? Did she forget your recent phone call?
2. Disorientation: this may to be to time or place. Did she forget the day it is or where you are located?
3. Communication problems: can she say what she seems to want to articulate? Can she find the words?
4. Comprehension problems: no matter how you explain something, some clients still don’t get it. The client may be incapable of understanding.
5. Lack of mental flexibility, inability to plan: When a client is fixated on an idea and you can’t dissuade them with logic, when a client can’t look ahead at the consequences of what she is doing now, this is an indicator of a potentially bigger problem.
6. Calculation problems: he may say he knows the math but can he do the math? If you go to lunch, can he calculate the tip?
If you see any one of these signs, proceed with caution. You must explore the problem more deeply and not just dismiss it as “he’s getting old”. If your client is impaired, his diminished capacity for finances could expose you and your client to liability for what you are doing.
Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney