Dementia and your portfolio
As more Baby Boomers reach retirement age, few elderly investors are willing to discuss a growing risk to their portfolio. The onset of diminished mental capacity can cause huge losses in your life savings. Many only realize the problem in hindsight. Don’t let that happen to you.
The facts are concerning. For example, one in nine people, age 65 or older, suffer from some form of dementia. That skyrockets to one in two people over the age of 85. What’s worse, there are at least 18 different diseases that bring on dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is only the most prevalent of causes. No one can predict who will get this disease, but we do know that the older we get the higher the risk.
If you have been reading my columns on estate planning, you know by now that a visit to an estate planning attorney is in order. It is true that most investors with significant assets have already made wills, set up trusts and in other ways made plans to protect their money after death. In many cases, they have also set up a power of attorney to manage their affairs in the event of illness or when they can no longer manage their money themselves.
The problem with all of the above is that none of it safe-guards you against an early onset of dementia. Only you can detect it, but even then, your mind can be telling you something different and usually does. It is a serious problem, since one out of seven us have it and may not know it. For investors, especially self-directed investors, this can result in disastrous investment decisions.
But what about your loved ones, won’t they know? Unfortunately, unless you have actually lived through this process with a relative or friend, chances are they won’t recognize what is occurring unless you tell them. I have had clients who have managed to conceal how poorly they are functioning from those they live with while continuing to make increasingly poor investment decisions as their brains atrophy.
My experiences with my own mother have taught me just how insidious this process can be. Our family assumed that dementia could be identified by the amount of things my Mom forgot, but we were wrong. There are many ways dementia can manifest itself and loss of memory is only one of them. In vascular dementia, for example, where the victim experiencs a series of micro strokes, other more important issues start to impact the brain. Loss of judgement, impulse control and emotional imbalance are several other conditions that can crop up even before memory loss.
All of the above can have a devastating impact on your portfolio. In some cases, an investor with early onset dementia can experience excessive fear or rage. Although prudent all their life, some investors will begin to take on excessive risk with their portfolios. Others will panic at the first down period in the markets and sell everything. Some lose their hard-won skepticism and will trust perfect strangers with easy-money con games.
Unfortunately, most loved ones realize that something is wrong only after the fact. It is far easier to suspect dementia when someone cannot find their way home. But it is far more difficult to identify within the financial world, especially if you have been making investment decisions on your own for many years.
How can you protect yourself from this risk? First monitor your own investment behavior. If you detect that there has been recent shifts (either more greed or fear) in how you approach the markets–be on guard. Make sure you talk to your loved ones concerning these changes and ask them to keep an eye on your behavior. If they admit that they do see a change, don’t get angry, get help. Go to your doctor and admit your fears. Better to lose a little pride than half of your life-savings.
On a different note, I will be missing in action over the next few weeks, getting my left knee replaced. Look for me again in November.