Retirement & Financial Planning Report

Aging itself doesn’t necessarily make a person less able to handle finances but there is a heightened risk if a person starts developing certain medically recognized conditions, a study has said.

That’s also true  if financial responsibilities fall to someone at an older age who hadn’t handled those responsibilities before, such as on the death of a spouse, according to the Center for Retirement Research.

The report looked at ability to handle matters ranging from the procedural, such as managing a checkbook, to those involving judgment such as assessing an investment’s potential risk and return.

“Normal cognitive aging generally does not affect financial capacity enough to warrant intervention. Retirees in their 70s and 80s are often just as able to pay the bills, handle debt, and maintain good credit as workers in their 50s and 60s,” it said, citing the knowledge accumulated over a lifetime as helping people handle money effectively.

“The flip side of the role of knowledge in preserving financial capability is that those without such knowledge are vulnerable. These financial novices are typically individuals who take over the responsibility of managing their household’s finances after a spouse dies or becomes incapacitated,” it said. “They are likely to need help with all aspects of financial management – from paying bills on time to updating a will – until they have gained enough knowledge. Unfortunately, the learning curve will be challenging for them due to normal cognitive aging, which diminishes the capacity to assimilate new information.”

It added that unlike normal cognitive changes associated with aging, cognitive impairment–which can range from “mild cognitive impairment” to dementia–becomes increasingly likely in a person’s 80s and “can rapidly erode financial capacity.”

Further, “a crucial characteristic of cognitive impairment is that people are usually unaware that they are slipping” and remain confident in their ability to handle their finances, making them more likely to be victims of fraud, the report said.