Dementia, financial wellbeing and problematic spending

By: David Sinclair

National and local dementia strategies, as well as the (former) Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia have raised significant awareness and delivered policy and practice change to support people with dementia.  

Yet one area where there has been limited focus is in relation to how we support and protect this group on the high street and beyond. 

The numbers are stark. There are over 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, a figure set to rise to over 1.6 million by 2040. 

One in six people aged over 80 have dementia and one in three people who survive to 65 will end their life with a form of dementia.  

Yet contrary to popular opinion, many people with dementia do not live in care homes.  

By 2025, there are likely to be 700,000 people with dementia living in their local community. There are an estimated 120,000 people living alone with dementia in the UK. This number may double to around 240,000 by 2039.  

People living with dementia go to the shops and buy products and services every day. An Alzheimer’s Society survey found that almost 80% of people with dementia list shopping as one of their favourite activities.  

In 2019, households with someone living with dementia were expected to spend £16.7 billion, a figure expected to double by 2040.  

Yet unless we act quickly. the changes in the way we manage money, from the “end of cash” to post office and bank closures, risk the financial wellbeing of people with dementia. COVID-19 is likely to accelerate the pace of change, meaning we need to act urgently. 

People living with dementia are particularly likely to need protection and support when faced with unscrupulous business practices from ‘sharp’ or aggressive selling to consumer fraud. Yet we know relatively little about consumer behaviour and how to protect their financial wellbeing.  

The most isolated, the oldest old, and those living with dementia are sometimes not included in research data. Longitudinal studies underrepresent the nature of financial wellbeing problems associated with dementia. Gathering the views of people with dementia and their carers is rarely done in relation to financial wellbeing (in fact it isn’t done often enough at all). There is very little research on dementia and consumption. 

We know, however, that victims of fraud and financial abuse are often socially isolated, over-trusting or sometimes afflicted by illnesses such as dementia. They are often repeatedly targeted by scammers once they fall victim. Older people can be placed onto ‘sucker lists’ by the criminals and their information and details are shared with other criminals.  

Our previous work on older consumers has highlighted some of the risks facing consumers with dementia including: 

  • Payments: Managing electronic payments, usability, exceptions services, access to cash; 
  • Abuse and fraud: Financial abuse, scams; 
  • Money management: Debt, access to guidance and advice as high street networks decline, problem solving and processing information issues; 
  • Spending and wellbeing: Under-consuming, compulsive or impulsive spending, understanding changes on the high street, adapting to new technology, problems with decision making, considering options around spending or exercising choice, managing problem gambling. 

These problems have in the main not attracted the attention of innovators, policymakers and service providers. Yet innovation and policy change could significantly improve the quality of life and financial wellbeing of people living with dementia in the community.  

Spending patterns may be a predictor of abuse and better data could for example help identify people or groups of people at risk. New services and products (e.g. in payments) could help reduce the risk of financial abuse of people with dementia. 

Public policy also needs to react. Responsible advertising regulations might need to be adapted and industry codes of practice enhanced to support people with dementia. We may need to do more to improve awareness of power of attorney and the role of the Office of Public Guardian. 

We probably have to accept that there is some risk on the high street for all of us. In fact, given the importance of shopping to quality of life with people with dementia, it could be very damaging if we sought to protect people so much that they could no longer do what they want to do. But that isn’t an excuse for inaction. 

In the short term, we need to better identify and prioritise the spending problems faced by people with dementia. Public policy must better respond to the needs of people with dementia and as the world changes post COVID-19, we must ensure that new products and services are inclusively designed and easy to use.  

And business needs to realise that older consumers are a pretty diverse bunch. 

ILC plan to develop a work programme on dementia and the longevity dividend. If you would like more information or to work with us on it, contact Redvers Lee

David Sinclair

David Sinclair

Director, ILC

David has worked in policy and research on ageing and demographic change for 15 years.

David has a particular interest in older consumers, active ageing, financial services, adult vaccination, and the role of technology in an ageing society. He has a strong knowledge of UK and global ageing society issues, from healthcare to pensions and from housing to transport.

David has presented on longevity and demographic change across the world (from Stafford to Seoul and Singapore to Stormont). In 2016 David won the Pensions-Net-Work Award for “The most informative speaker 2006-2016”. He is frequently quoted on ageing issues in the national media.