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Senior Health

Dimensions of Wellness - Part 8: Financial Wellness

While there is recognition and acceptance that healthy aging encompasses body, mind and spirit, many people overlook the influence of personal finances on an older person's well-being. After all, money provides access to products and services, and affords people choices and opportunities.

It has been said that the greatest fear of older adults is outliving their assets. During the current times of economic instability, there is increasing fear and anxiety among people of all ages about meeting living expenses and covering health-related costs. Just this month it was reported that "Diabetics are increasingly risking life and limb by cutting back on--or even going without--doctor visits, insulin, medicines and blood-sugar testing as they lose income and health insurance in the recession,...People with other health problems also are cutting back on care amid the recession..."1

Our unstable economy adds unhealthy stress to the lives of many older adults, especially for those who are living on fixed incomes. In order for health care and social services profess-sionals to support their clients/patients, it is imperative that we first understand what is involved in financial wellness.

Financial wellness involves:

Younger generations often view savings like exercise and give up too quickly when they don't see immediate results. However, many older adults grew up with a "live within your means" mentality and planned for their future with many depending heavily on Social Security and Medicare. Traditionally, older adults tended not to use credit to pay bills, but now many are paying for doctor's visits, medications and other emergencies by using credit cards. Currently, credit card debt is a top reason for older adults to file bankruptcy.3

Older adults may avoid discussing financial challenges and needs with others because of embarrassment, fear or shame regarding their financial status and decisions about handling money. Without acknowledging and addressing financial challenges, older adults face increasing health risks, become vulnerable to credit offers, increased debt, scams and exploitation. Professionals working with older adults have the opportunity and responsibility to assist in safeguarding the dignity and financial well-being of their clients/patients.

The following are a few risk factors that increase the vulnerability for older adults when making financial decisions and that may also increase the potential for financial abuse: Mental and physical challenges (anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, chronic illness), financial losses (savings depleted), fear of losing independence (mobility, home), and isolation (increased chance for abuse, exploitation).

Although studies show that many health clinicians hesitate to bring up sensitive subjects such as personal finances, abuse or exploitation, we understand that stress and concern regarding finances impacts negatively on overall well-being and needs to be addressed.4 By discussing these issues with older adults we may enhance their safety and security. The following are suggested strategies to broach sensitive topics:

If there's suspicion of financial exploitation, contact your area Adult Protective Services.

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References:

  1. Diabetics skimp on lifesaving care as economy slides, KVAL.
  2. Dimensions of Wellness: Financial Wellness, Definitions of Wellness. 
  3. Aging Connection, Ohio Department of Aging, January 2009. 
  4. A Clinician's Handbook: Talking with Your Older Patient, National Institute on Aging.
  5. Ibid.

GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

For more information:

Go to the Senior Health health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: Apr 21, 2009

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati