“This is very different to people with Alzheimer’s disease, who may be forgetting to pay bills or can’t work out amounts of change. People with frontotemporal dementia were gullible and susceptible to exploitation because they have difficulties with social cognition, such as interpreting different social signals from other people, or picking up subtle social cues such as reading people’s trustworthiness. It affects their abstract thinking and higher-level cognitive skills.”
Dr Wong’s investigation into the financial vulnerability of dementia patients began with a 2019 project grant from Dementia Australia. “It’s not easy. People may be reluctant to reveal their financial situations, or they may not think it’s relevant. Also, many people with the condition will deny that there is a problem – even though their carers and families recognise the decline from their previously capable selves.”
Dr Wong has tested more than 200 people, either with or without dementia, to build a robust test that will flag potential declines in financial capability and prompt more extensive neurological assessment. Involving a session with a neuropsychologist to administer the test, interpret the responses and provide feedback, it will hopefully be available during 2023.
In the meantime, additional grant funding from Ecstra Foundation, a Not-For-Profit organisation working with the National Financial Capability Strategy, is helping Dr Wong build a free, 10-minute mini-version of the financial capability test. The online mini-test will comprise about 15 questions targeted at older adults covering such financial tasks as handling cash, paying bills, budgeting, identifying scams and decision making, along with understanding legal and financial terminology.
When it becomes available in late 2022, the online mini-test will generate an automatic score and report card, itemising what people do well and what needs attention, with advice on where to obtain support.
Dr Wong believes that the test’s aim of promoting early identification and intervention can help ensure people’s long-term financial security, especially by prompting them to act early on creating wills, allocating Power of Attorney rights and agreeing to other financial restrictions appropriate to each person. “Rather than taking away all their financial freedom, we could set tailored boundaries so that they are supported, but only in areas where they’ve been identified as needing help.”