Helping aging customers

by Jean Sinkule
For The Review

How many of us have witnessed a scenario like this: an elderly customer enters a bank or other business and seems just a bit confused or hesitant about why he or she is there and how to complete their intended transaction. Often, things work out, either on their own or with some gentle prompting by a perceptive employee. But that’s not always the case. As the U.S. population ages, elderly Americans are at an increasing risk of dementia and vulnerable to financial losses, abuse or fraud.

According to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. In Wisconsin, an estimated 110,000 people age 65 or older have Alzheimer’s, with projections of 130,000 over the next 10 years.

Studies also show that those who experience cognitive decline as they age often make poor and/or risky financial decisions.What’s worse, those who make such decisions continue to feel confident in their ability to manage their finances well.

Although families are often aware of a loved one’s difficulties, they are not always in a position to step in to prevent financial losses,especially in day-to-day circumstances. In recent years, many banks and other businesses, as well as entire communities, have embraced training designated as Dementia Friendly, to teach employees best practices in dealing with customers who have Alzheimer’s and other dementia. Wisconsin Bank & Trust is among those companies, having completed training at its Monroe Banking Center and now exploring opportunities for training at its other locations, including in Sheboygan, Dane and Milwaukee Counties.

Many of the financial problems that can occur when a person has dementia result from confusion or misplaced trust. For example, mail can pile up and become overwhelming, resulting in unpaid bills. Or the person might make contributions to charities or other organizations, thinking the solicitations they receive are actually invoices. Others are scammed by unscrupulous caregivers or others who provide services or repairs. Employees at banks and other businesses can be trained to recognize signs of potential fraud or financial abuse and step in to help the person or contact a family member or trusted advisor.

In Wisconsin, the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance provides standards to be designated as a dementia friendly business or organization.

When a business or organization has been designated dementia friendly, they will receive signage to display.

Other recommendations to work with customers who show signs of dementia, include:

Offer understanding and reassurance.

Communicate clearly.

Listen carefully.

Be patient.

More information about the Dementia Friendly Community program in Wisconsin is available at: Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Jean Sinkule is Banking Center Manager -- Monroe Office for Wisconsin Bank & Trust Member FDIC

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