December 13, 2019

Protecting seniors: Website provides free assessment for financial decision-making of older adults

Forty-eight million U.S. adults are 65 or older and worth billions of dollars in income and assets. The pursuit of these ‘nest eggs’ is one of the fastest-growing consumer fraud issues today.

Earlier this year, Wayne State’s Institute of Gerontology (IOG) launched, which provides free online training, screenings and interviews to assess the financial decision-making ability of older adults and identify exploitation risks.

“Forty-eight million U.S. adults are 65 or older and worth billions of dollars in income and assets,” said IOG Director Peter Lichtenberg. “The pursuit of these ‘nest eggs’ is one of the fastest-growing consumer fraud issues today.”

Lichtenberg — one of the country's leading experts in the prevention of financial exploitation in older adults — created with tools designed for easy use by a long list of professionals who work with older adults. This includes bankers, estate planners, attorneys, social workers, insurance agents, law enforcement officials, and employees of Adult Protective Services.


“We’ve heard from dozens of professionals who are grateful to have a way to evaluate these types of decisions in their clients,” Lichtenberg said. “Nothing like this exists, especially in a user-friendly form and targeting financial decisions.”

The tools on the website can establish a baseline of decision-making, confirm decisional abilities before a major financial transaction, measure psychological vulnerability to exploitation or undue influence, and assess a client after suspected exploitation. A deficit in financial decision-making capacity can be the first harbinger of broad cognitive impairment. Assessments are computer scored for risk and suggest next steps to evaluate and protect.

After more than five years of research and validation, Lichtenberg released the tools, which include:

  • Financial Decision Tracker — a 10-item interview with the older adult about a recent significant financial decision.
  • Financial Vulnerability Assessment — a deeper interview to assess the older adult’s cognitive functioning, awareness and psychological vulnerability related to a financial decision.
  • Family and Friends Interview — a brief interview with an older adult’s trusted relative or friend about the older adult’s financial decision-making, designed to complement results from the Decision Tracker or Vulnerability Assessment.

Learn more by visiting Open an account, take the streamlined training and start using the assessment. The account de-identifies and securely stores interviews for easy reporting and tracking.

Older Adult Nest Egg is one arm of the IOG’s grant funded Successful Aging through Financial Empowerment (SAFE) program. SAFE includes financial literacy workshops, education about scams and fraud and, of critical importance, one-on-one counseling sessions with older adults and caregivers to help restore financial health. “Once a person learns their identity has been stolen or they have been a victim of a scam, the work really begins,” said SAFE Director LaToya Hall. “We help people file police reports and consumer complaints, freeze credit reports, and do whatever else is necessary for their financial health to be restored. And it’s all free.”

SAFE recently added Caregiver Empowerment to their menu of services: one-on-one counseling for caregivers of older adults to help them manage someone else’s money as well as their own. A Caregiver Empowerment counselor can meet in your home, at the IOG or in a community setting. Assistance is safe, confidential and free. Contact Program Director LaToya Hall to learn more at or 313-664-2608.

This story originally appeared in the spring 2019 edition of Transitions.

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