Filling seniors financial prescription

Medical report suggests many seniors facing age-associated financial vulnerability

Two grumpy old men meet at their favourite pub …

Felix says to Oscar: “Geez Oscar, you look like a train wreck.”

Oscar: “With good reason Felix. The doc just told me I got that AAFV thing.”

Felix: “Damn Oscar, that’s a tough way to go. Look, drinks are on me today.”

Yes, dear readers, the medical profession has come up with a new designer disease specifically minted for those of us who pace in front of the group mail box on the 27th of every month.

This affliction is called “age-associated financial vulnerability” or AAFV which gives it a medical gravitas that rivals other afflictions that have been branded as acronyms. It also reminds us that our ages and the thickness of our wallets are two of life’s measurements that tend to go in opposite directions.

We all know that financial pressures mount as we age. Well, a report just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the scribblings of the American College of Physicians, states that doctors have been overlooking the medical implications. The report claims that one of the most devastating problems of aging is the decline in a patient’s ability to manage his or her financial affairs.

The authors of the report – wealthy middle-aged doctors no doubt – say it is their hope that by assigning a medical name to this sad state of financial affairs physicians will start thinking about this in all older people. This would place AAFV diagnosis in the same class of social geriatric medicine as the current testing of seniors on their cognitive ability to drive safely.

AAFV is described as “a pattern of risky behavior related to money that places an older adult at substantial risk for a considerable loss of resources that might result in dramatic changes in their quality of life and is inconsistent with choices the person made when they were younger.”

Financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse and it can lead to depression, nursing home placement and increased mortality, the report’s authors say.

Factors that can contribute to financial vulnerability among the elderly include cognitive or emotional decline; impairments in vision, hearing and mobility; serious progressive illness; and social isolation.

Meanwhile, as if to reinforce the grim news above, the credit firm Equifax reports that Canadians 65 and older increased their debt loads by almost five per cent in the second quarter of 2015, a much faster pace than the general population.

The average senior owed about $15,000 at the end of June. That represents debt on top of home mortgages.

“We have been observing that this segment has been increasing debt for a while now,” says Regina Malina, a senior director of insights at Equifax. She suspects a lot of that consumer debt stems from having to help adult children or other family members with their own financial hardships.

Seniors are having trouble paying off that new debt. The credit firm says seniors who are 90 days or more behind on their bills are deemed to be severely delinquent. By that measure, the delinquency rate for seniors rose this year for the first time since 2010. That rate increased by 2.4 per cent during the second quarter. It went down for all other demographic groups.

What’s this all mean for vulnerable, cash-strapped seniors? We better start lobbying the new federal government for increased pensions. And, don’t be surprised if your doctor starts checking your financial pulse. Managing life’s daily challenges in our Golden Years has, officially, become a health risk.

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Brian Kieran is a veteran journalist and communications specialist.