In the Examination Room, an Effort to Prevent Financial Abuse
By DIANA B. HENRIQUES
Can doctors and other medical professionals be trained to spot elderly patients who are at risk of being ripped off?
A consortium of regulators, educators and advocates is hoping the answer is “yes, with a little help from us.” On Wednesday, the group announced a program aimed at training thousands of medical professionals to screen older patients for financial vulnerability, watch for signs that they are being exploited and refer them to appropriate sources of help.
The initiative’s sponsors say that mild mental impairment, a problem that affects more than a third of all people over 71, can lead the elderly into debt or destitution before anyone realizes they are fumbling their personal finances. Indeed, research shows that fogginess about money matters can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The new program aims to develop continuing medical education classes that will train health care professionals to quickly recognize the signs of financial confusion before a patient has fallen victim to fraud or incurred ruinous debts.
The effort is a collaboration among the North American Securities Administrators Association, made up of state securities regulators; the Investor Protection Trust and the Investor Protection Institute, nonprofit organizations focusing on investor education; and the National Adult Protective Services Association, which supports the efforts of social workers who deal with abuse cases among elderly and young adults.
But it has the support of a handful of important national medical associations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Geriatrics Society. According to Robert E. Roush, faculty associate at the Huffington Center on Aging at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, a pilot project in Texas produced a solid increase in the number of doctors who used training information to refer patients for more extensive testing of their financial acuity.