One of the hardest things for older adults to cope with is the thought of losing their independence, which can be an issue long before someone needs to go to nursing home. Giving up the car keys is a topic frequently raised because it is easy to imagine the damage that can be done by a driver who shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car. That doesn’t mean it is easy for the older adult or the loved one to give up or take away the car keys and it often results in family conflict and other problems. The same kind of challenges can also arise when it comes to the use of technology.

Cell phones and computers have the potential to cause many difficulties particularly for those who have dementia. A study by the Pew Research Center shows that 73% of adults 65 and older used the Internet in 2019 and 42% owned smartphones in 2017. While computers and phones offer many benefits including keeping in touch with friends, family and the outside world, they also pose risks because they provide access to personal and financial information, such as bank accounts and credit cards. Even healthy older adults are vulnerable to concerns such as identify theft, phishing and telephone scams, hackers and viruses. However, it is worse for those with memory or cognitive difficulties and can have serious financial repercussions.

In addition to fear of being a victim of a crime, the older adult may cause their own problems because they got confused or forgetful. Saved credit card information and apps can make it easy for someone to make purchases beyond what they can afford. They may make bank transfers that cause checks to bounce or buy or sell investments without thinking it through because technology makes it so easy. There are also the inconveniences and stress from getting locked out of their accounts when they cannot remember passwords. According to one article, “

[c]omputer skills may deteriorate even ‘before [older adults] misplace keys, forget names or display other more classic signs of early dementia.’” As a result, hearing that a loved one is suddenly having problems with their computer or phone may be an indication that there is a health problem.

How can families address this matter? Just like raising the issue of driving, it is a sensitive topic and acting without the person’s consent has legal, emotional and ethical implications. Ideally, seniors should realize, with perhaps a little prompting, that they have a problem and voluntarily make changes. Apps can be deleted from the phone and access to accounts can be shared, limited or require another form of confirmation for transactions. Credit cards can be converted into “stored value” cards and credit bureaus can be informed to not approve credit card applications.

There should also be a discussion about executing a power of attorney giving someone else the power to handle bills and financial matters. An attorney can advise regarding what powers a person may want to grant and implement protections against financial abuse. In extreme cases, it may be necessary for family members to request that a guardian be appointed.

Finding that you or a loved one can no longer be fully independent is challenging for everyone. As you age, it is important to think about these issues before they arise and have a plan for what you may want to do and who you trust to help. It’s also essential to discuss your estate and long-term care planning with an attorney to advise you in implementing your wishes.

If you need assistance, contact me for a consultation.