Memory issues in older adult populations run the gamut from a brain that just doesn't recall things as quickly as before to late-stage dementia or other cognitive diseases. For family members caring for or simply helping to support older loved ones with memory problems, it can be difficult to know how much to act in certain situations.
For example, if your loved one is suffering from dementia or other cognitive conditions that impact memory, where do you draw the line when it comes to protecting them from scams? You might think taking computers and phones away or telling seniors not to answer phone calls unless they're coming from known loved ones sounds like a good idea. But in many cases, reducing independence isn't the best course of action, and even ideas that sound like safeguards could be premature.
If your family is facing a dementia diagnosis or caring for an older adult with a memory issue, find out more about helping to protect them from scams below.
A dementia diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean someone is incapable of caring for themselves to a great degree or getting online and engaging with friends. Many people in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's continue to live independently with some support from family and friends or professionals, such as those in an assisted living community.
In fact, it's often a good idea to support independence and activity as much as possible. Socialization is important to strengthen and hold on to existing cognitive function. For seniors in the time of COVID-19 and beyond, socialization in person isn't always possible, so encouraging use of phones and computers to connect can be important.
In the end, each senior, their family and their care team should work together to create realistic processes that support independence as much as possible while protecting the older adult according to their needs and condition.
If someone is able to maintain some level of independence, don't assume they can't learn how to do some things to protect themselves from scams. For example, you might talk to your older relative about common scams so they don't get caught off guard by them.
If you're worried that your loved one might not remember what you've told them, especially in the heat of the moment, consider creating a "not real" or "ask Sue" board. Here's how you do that:
• Decide on a place to keep the board. It should be somewhere that the senior can easily remember it's there and reference it, especially when fielding phone calls. It might be a white board on the kitchenette wall or a clipboard with pages hanging near the senior's writing desk.
• Write something at the top of the board such as, "These are things that are probably not real. If you're not sure, don't respond to them. Instead, call Sue to talk about them." (Replace Sue with someone willing to be the senior's sounding board for potential scams. Include his or her phone number.)
• Below that, list some common scams. You can include anything you're worried about impacting your loved one, but some might include:
– Someone calls and says something is wrong with your Social Security number or that the Social Security Administration has issued a warrant for your arrest
– Someone you don't know calls and says one of your grandchildren or another loved one is sick or in trouble and asks for money
– You get an email from a financial institution asking you to click a link for any reason
• Regularly talk about this board with your loved one and remind them to use it.
If your loved one is able to play a few mobile games but they're at a point in their dementia that they might spend a lot of money online or via games without even realizing it, you can use technology to protect them. This can also help reduce the chance they become the victim of some scams. Consider setting parental controls on a device you give them for entertainment purposes. You can often lock devices so that no purchases can be made.
Some other options might include:
• Locking what types of sites and apps can be used on a device
• Blocking calls except from approved numbers
• Using cloning options so that you can see a lot of what happens on your parent's device, which lets you understand if they're being targeted by scammers
Obviously, these types of choices need to be made in the most respectful way possible and should never be about controlling someone. They would be most appropriate only if the senior is unable to make these types of decisions on their own cognitively.
Memory care options at assisted living communities such as Autumn View Gardens on Schuetz Road in Creve Coeur, MO, help ensure seniors can live as independently and safely as possible. Staff is on hand to assist seniors with various needs, and can help them access computers or phones safely if appropriate.