Technology has created a multitude of challenges and conveniences for most of us. We have ease of access to shopping, ebooks, online banking, retirement accounts and other services. For security reasons, there is a constant process which requires periodic password changes to prevent unauthorized access to our most precious online data. As caregivers of family members suffering from dementia-related illnesses, another potentially growing challenge will be managing the online accounts for those patients.
The way in which people around the world manage their finances is transforming, thanks to technological innovation. Many of us frequently receive requests from our creditors, utility companies, retailers and banking institutions asking us to “go paperless.” According to a recent Gallup poll, “The number of adults worldwide who report having an account at a formal financial institution or through a mobile device grew by an estimated 700 million between 2011 and 2014.” We can truly assume that of those 700 million people, some of those include people who once managed their own financial accounts and now their finances are being managed by a caregiver. In addition, Gallup's 2013 banking study revealed, “that 75% of banking baby boomers used online services in the past six months. Nearly as many of these boomers (71%) use online banking services at least weekly, as frequently as Generation X (70%) and Generation Y (72%) do.”
So what does this all mean? Our world is moving towards methods other than traditional paper management of utility, credit and financial accounts. Improvements in technology have influenced people around the world to adapt to these conveniences in order to simplify their lives.
Digital account management has been a part of our lives for more than a decade, so it is only logical to assume that many patients who now require caregiving once participated in these conveniences. At some point in their lives, many patients learned to use this technology, and many have created their own online utility, credit and financial accounts to make their lives easier.
Those of us who have various online accounts for whatever reason are aware of how easy it is to lose or forget these passwords. Unfortunately, those suffering from dementia-related illnesses have an even greater challenge not only remembering passwords, but remembering the various accounts that they created.
This presents a challenge for caregivers. Not only are they managing the traditional financial affairs of their patient, but now they need to attempt to manage their online financial affairs as well. According to Washington (2015), this extra financial task creates a dual role for the caregiver. Managing dual financial obligations also takes away time from other activities and may affect the caregiver’s ability to focus on making sound financial planning decisions for themselves and their patient.
Taking proactive steps
If a caregiver has legal authority to make financial decisions for a loved one (known as financial Power of Attorney), there are several proactive steps that they can take to be proactive if they know that their dementia patient currently has or had online financial accounts. Depending on the patient’s dementia level, as a caregiver, you may choose to inquire and see if they are still aware of their online activity. If they are aware, sit down with them at the computer and write down user names and passwords to as many accounts as possible. You’ll also want to log in to these accounts to validate the access.
Additionally, you should try to ensure that they do not begin changing account information or creating additional accounts. This will make your job even more difficult.
Another step may be to gain access to their email account(s) and password(s). This way, you can see if they are getting paperless billing or dividend statements. If you find that you are locked out of financial and email accounts, you may need to contact the customer support operations and provide proof that you are their caregiver (and have the necessary legal authorization required for access to these accounts) and they should be able to assist you.
We currently live in a world saturated with technology. The suggestions above are only a starting point. Keep in mind that if the person you care for has online accounts, that may be a positive in regards to helping you manage their affairs without physically traveling to financial institutions and the post office in order to make payments. The goal here is for you to be proactive and take the necessary steps as soon as possible. This will help to protect their finances and make your life easier by simplifying how they need to be managed.