Wealth transfer from ageing baby boomers to an“inheritance impatient” generation, fuelled by a projected rise in dementia in the community, is fertile ground for financial abuse of persons with dementia.

Safeguarding vulnerable people by training ‘frontline’ staff in banking is one approach being taken by researchers at the DCRC-Assessment and Better Care led by A/Professor Carmelle Peisah.

What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse involves the taking or misusing of a person’s money, assets or property by someone in a position of trust.

Examples include:

  • gaining a person’s confidence to get access to, and misuse, an ATM or credit card;
  • taking money or property,
  • forcing or forging a signature, or
  • persuading a person to sign a will, or power of attorney or execute a contract (such as a sale of a house) through deception or undue influence.

Financial abuse also includes scams in telemarketing or e-marketing - where perpetrators are aware of a person’s vulnerability and use deception, scare tactics or exaggerated claims, to procure the person’s money.

“Sadly, the temptation to indulge in such activities, especially amongst families, will only increase”, says A/Prof Carmelle Peisah, “…  an ageing baby boomer might be perceived as an obstacle for, or a means to, accessing a valuable family asset – even the family home”.

A/Prof Carmelle Peisah is an Old Age Psychiatrist with a longstanding passion for the challenging ethical mix of the law and dementia. She co-wrote “Capacity and the Law”  with lawyer, Professorial Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and former President of the NSW Guardianship Tribunal Mr Nick O’Neill. It is the first book to deal comprehensively with the issue of capacity and the common law and statute law in Australia.


What is Capacity?

“Capacity”, explains Carmelle, “in simple terms, is the ability to make decisions – and a person’s capacity will depend on the decision being made – the capacity task or domain”. Dementia has particular challenges form a medico-legal and human rights perspective where the goal is to promote individual autonomy at the same time as protecting people from abuse and exploitation. From a practical point of view I am interested in research that will help stop problems before they start!

A/Prof Peisah and DCRC colleagues have commenced a practical project which aims to prevent elder abuse by safeguarding the financial autonomy of people with dementia. In partnership with the Capacity Australia* a key objective is to increase dementia awareness and empower front-line staff in banking / finance to be more effective ‘point of contact’ customer screens regarding abuse.

The project has produced an online education tool developed in conjunction with Smart Sparrow, an education technology start-up company incubated within the Adaptive eLearning Research Group at the School of Computer Science and Engineering at UNSW, using adaptive and personalized learning technology. The tool has been tailored to the banking industry and the Australian Banking Association’s recently-released Guidelines on Financial Abuse Prevention. The education tool comprises a pre-test of 15 multiple choice questions, followed by a learning module tailored to the individual’s baseline performance on the pre-test, and a post-test to measure knowledge translation.

This tool will educate the banking industry to -

  • support people’s capacity to make financial decisions
  • improve knowledge of dementia in time-poor customer service staff 
  • recognise signs of financial abuse and exploitation of older people
  • respond appropriately to suspected abuse.

“This project is an exciting world-first initiative”, said A/Prof Peisah, “it fits really nicely with the Is It Dementia initiative of Alzheimer’s Australia, plus recent research by Alzheimer’s NSW and their Discussion Paper on Preventing Financial Abuse of People with Dementia".


A/Prof Peisah added: "This research also builds on earlier work -  the Capacity Toolkit authored by Jenna McNab (a fellow lead in this banking project) and developed by the Attorney General’s Department of NSW in 2008. We are working together to improve awareness for dementia in financial sectors, to help create a dementia friendly community”.




Study leads A/Prof Carmelle Peisah (second from right) and
Jenna McNab (first on the left back row) with colleagues at
the earlier 2008 launch of the NSW Capacity Toolkit.


DCRC Project Page

Dementia, financial abuse and banking: a pilot knowledge translation study for community banking and financial staff

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