When difficulty balancing the checkbook is a tip-off of more to come

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    Keeping tabs on personal finances is not always a top priority. But in older adults, when that skill slips, it might indicate cognitive aging or a neurodegenerative disease.

    “When that becomes clinically significant, the first place it often shows up is difficulties making financial decisions or being susceptible to financial fraud, abuse, or exploitation,” said Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine, medical ethics, and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

    He was one of several researchers presenting work at Penn’s Institute on Aging annual retreat, which this year focused on financial security. About a fifth of older adults report being taken advantage of financially, often by family members.

    Karlawish said scientists are only beginning to understand how aging affects social cognition and the ability to read the intentions of another person, which might explain why the elderly are more likely to trust scammers.

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    As more Americans reach retirement age and beyond, Bob Zdenek of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition said banks are beginning to offer customized services for the elderly. One new financial product is a “view only” account that caregivers can see but not access.

    “Only the older adult can deposit or take out money, or pay bills,” said Zdenek. “None of the caregivers have power of attorney, so that protects.”

    Other examples include “safe balance” accounts that do not charge overdraft fees.

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