Skip to Main Content

Cognitive Decline: Be Prepared and
Know Your Role

Rhonda Latreille, Founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business®, and a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA), shares her unique insights on the maturing client base to help you broach the notoriously sensitive topic – with ease.

July 2018

Photo of Rhonda Latreille

Rhonda Latreille

MBA, CPCA, Founder and CEO, Age-Friendly Business®

Read bio

With Canadians living longer, and as the regulatory landscape evolves, it’s time for Advisors to address the long-time challenge of what to do when clients experience cognitive decline. Rhonda Latreille, Founder and CEO of Age-Friendly Business®, and a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA), shares her unique insights on the maturing client base to help you broach the notoriously sensitive topic – with ease.

Finding that Middle Ground: Addressing Cognitive Decline

As a certified professional consultant on the aging marketplace, I’ve seen many Advisors struggle with the same issue of how to address a client’s cognitive decline. Either they’re too frightened to even broach the topic – and therefore already at risk of liability – or they’re eager to dive into the deep end, leaving themselves, and their firm, potentially vulnerable.

But there is a happier – and less murky – middle ground. While as a Financial Advisor you need to be aware of the legislation and privacy considerations at stake, there is still a favourable approach that allows you to operate within guidelines, and make the conversation a little easier for ALL involved.

The reality is that Canadians are living longer, and are heading into retirement with more financial assets than any previous generation. With the baby boomer market playing an increasingly dominant role in Advisory practices – now making up half of the assets under management controlled by North American Advisors – the topic has become an ever-important point of discussion in today’s landscape.¹ Yet it’s still fairly taboo: in fact, a recent study found that only 17-19% of investors have actually discussed cognitive decline and/or dementia with their own Advisors.²

So how do you proceed on the issue?

As a best practice, it’s ideal to prepare for the situation AHEAD of time – both during the initial intake interview, and annual reviews, when your client is still healthy and of sound mind.

Always resort back to the foundation of your commitment, and reinforce the message that as your clients’ trusted Advisor, you have a continuous obligation to act in their best interest. Manage expectations, and define what that will look like, in good times, and bad:

  • Start the estate transfer process during onboarding, and ask for an individual, or powers of attorney (POA), who can be contacted in case of diminished capacity (e.g. “If you’re having a difficult time, who would you like to me to contact to come in, and help us work together to discuss your financial strategies?”)
  • Always document the information, and have clients sign off on it (don’t ever assume the POA or representative will be a family member, as there is sometimes greater potential for abuse and exploitation)
  • Review the record annually, and update as necessary to ensure contact information is current, and representatives are still able and willing to act
  • Set up family meetings early on, where appropriate, to help solidify relationships and engender trust
  • Do your homework on your firm’s compliance policies to avoid scrambling at the last minute, and be crystal clear on your responsibilities
  • Keep communication transparent and above board (never contact a family member or friend without your client’s knowledge)

The Conversation: Clarity and Empathy Are KEY

Once you begin to suspect a client’s cognitive decline, it’s important to remind him or her of your core responsibility as an Advisor, and then clearly describe the behaviour you’ve observed – without judgment or interpretation. Be respectful, and honour their circumstances. For instance, “Mary, I’ve noticed you called us four times today to confirm our appointment, so I’m not assuming anything – I just want to ensure that everything is in order with your health, and that you’re feeling okay.”

At this point, gently, but firmly, alert clients to the preparative document they have already signed (if you have it) to ensure they have the support they need, and where possible, follow up with any obligatory company policy, especially if resistance is encountered: “Our firm requires that if I have any concern about your health, I am not able to move forward until we’ve confirmed you’re okay, and we have all the proper protections in place” – whether that means an official doctor or mental capacity assessment, or bringing in some additional support.

Ultimately, it’s critical to understand your role, and that you’re not a social worker, or any kind of authority on mental capacity. But as their Financial Advisor, you’re among the most-trusted professionals in your clients’ lives, so it falls upon you to safeguard their assets, and ensure a process that’s as smooth and seamless as possible.

A Long-Term Partnership Makes ALL the Difference

Even by taking all the right steps, it’s important to acknowledge that addressing the issue of cognitive decline will never be easy. However, many of the Financial Advisors I’ve encountered through my Age-Friendly Business® have cultivated meaningful relationships with their clients over time, and are able to leverage this to achieve a level of comfort and trust that would otherwise be unattainable in a difficult situation:

“[Mary,] I’ve known you for a long time, and I’m committed to helping you achieve your goals. I can appreciate what this must feel like for you, but we’ve been through many challenging times together, and this is no different. I always have your best interest in mind, and I’m obligated to voice my concerns. Let’s work together on this, and then we can move forward.”

Even if you have clients’ permission to contact the POA, or trading authority, remember to copy them on any future conversations, and document the entire process to avoid any legal trouble. It will go a long way to nurturing your existing relationship, and demonstrating that you’re a dedicated, reliable, and proactive partner.

Cognitive Decline? How to Spot the Signs

It’s also a good idea to identify some general behavioural triggers upfront that would cause you to suspect cognitive decline (included in that same document that outlines your client’s chosen representative). This would not only allow you to refer back to those specific markers when approaching the conversation, but it also creates an opportunity to discuss the importance of understanding the nature and consequence of decisions.

Recognize that mental capacity is not necessarily binary, and can change on a day-to-day basis depending on a number of contributing factors – from vitamin deficiency, UTIs, side effects from new medication, or even just a particularly poor night’s sleep. It may be permanent, but it may also be temporary confusion that’s reversible. And of course, cognition is not about a client being able to repeat the complex theory behind every investment, and shouldn’t be a go-to diagnosis after a bad decision. Simply put, from a financial perspective, clients must be able to comprehend the outcome of their decisions. Identifying symptoms that would render them incapable of doing so ahead of time lets clients know what they can expect, and reassures them that you’ll be there for them – at all stages of life.

Four Telltale Signs:

  1. A significant or sudden change in financial objectives (e.g. if a client had a fairly conservative portfolio, and decided to withdraw all money to embark on a world cruise with a new friend). It’s important to note that this could also be an indication of potential abuse or exploitation, and not necessarily a change in mental capacity
  2. Memory loss or confusion (e.g. repeated missed appointments, calling frequently to ask the same questions, forgetting instructions, etc.)
  3. Incoherent speech, or having to repeat simple concepts time and again
  4. Lack of interest in financial decisions, and an unusual gap in communication

An Age-Friendly® Practice: A Smooth Transition to the Next Stage

While the issue of cognitive decline is an important focus for the 50-plus market, it’s just one facet of the many concerns and considerations that impact this major life stage. In my Age-Friendly Business® enterprise, we specialize in training professionals how to differentiate themselves in this marketplace, and create an elevated experience for Boomers and seniors.

Since 2003, part of our offering has been the respected designation of Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA). To earn this, every individual has to successfully complete 24 different modules covering the health, social, legal, and financial aspects of aging, for a comprehensive understanding of what it means to serve an older client base. Having trained thousands of Financial Advisors under this designation, we know the service is a natural fit for the industry, especially as more Boomer clients transition to the next stage of life.

To learn more about the CPCA, or any of the 36 total modules offered by Age-Friendly Business®, visit to view the full catalogue. All of our courses – including the CPCA and our collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Elder Law titled, “Aging and the Law: What Every Professional Needs to Know” – are pre-approved for continuing education credits for Financial Advisors.

As such, it’s essential for Advisors to understand their needs, fears and goals to ensure they can provide the best financial solutions for what they require now – AND into the future. To accomplish this, you should first seriously challenge yourself on your own stereotypes and beliefs about aging: “What am I bringing to the table? What are the myths? What are the realities? And how does that all influence the quality of my engagement with the client?”

Then, it’s often about putting in the necessary effort and comprehending potential problems or risks that may arise: dealing with aging parents; paying for children’s university tuition; assisted living and the long-term care system in Canada; retirement lifestyle; healthcare subsidies; living through chronic illness; end-of-life care; estate and succession planning; and understanding provincial guidelines. Just being aware of these issues – and what’s keeping your clients awake in the early hours of the morning – is a big step toward guiding meaningful conversations, and enriching your practice. More often than not, clients will not have even thought of a particular issue, and are grateful to the Advisor for simply initiating the discussion.

Ultimately, to manage an Age-Friendly® business, it’s about being able to demonstrate the appreciation and sensitivity you have for the unique concerns of the older demographic – and assuring clients that while you may not always have all the answers, you certainly have the right questions, and the knowledge to direct them. Having a history of these important conversations ensures that when difficult times arise, you can deliver that bottom-line message to your client with honesty and integrity, fostering a more positive resolution for all involved.

To gain more valuable insights, practice management ideas and business-building tools, contact your BMO Global Asset Management Regional Sales Representative.

¹ PriceMetrix. The State of Retail Wealth Management, as of December 31, 2016. Based on insights drawn from PriceMetrix’s proprietary database, representing 24 wealth management firms, with over $5 trillion in assets under management, more than 60,000 financial advisors, 10 million retail investors and 500 million transactions.

² “The Impact of Aging on Financial Decisions,” State Street Global Advisors SPDR, 2016.


This article is for information purposes. The information contained herein is not, and should not be construed as, investment, tax or legal advice to any party. Investments should be evaluated relative to the individual’s investment objectives and professional advice should be obtained with respect to any circumstance.

BMO Global Asset Management is a brand name that comprises BMO Asset Management Inc., BMO Investments Inc., BMO Asset Management Corp. and BMO’s specialized investment management firms.

® “BMO (M-bar roundel symbol)” are trade-marks of Bank of Montreal, used under licence.

* As compared to an investment that generates an equivalent amount of interest income.

®/™Registered trademarks/trademark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence.

BMO Global Asset Management is a brand name under which BMO Asset Management Inc. and BMO Investments Inc. operate. Certain of the products and services offered under the brand name, BMO Global Asset Management are designed specifically for various categories of investors in a number of different countries and regions and may not be available to all investors. Products and services are only offered to such investors in those countries and regions in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. BMO Financial Group is a service mark of Bank of Montreal (BMO).

BMO ETFs are managed and administered by BMO Asset Management Inc., an investment fund manager and portfolio manager and separate legal entity from Bank of Montreal. Commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with investments in exchange traded funds. Please read the prospectus before investing.

Exchange traded funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated.

BMO Mutual Funds are managed by BMO Investments Inc., which is an investment fund manager and a separate legal entity from Bank of Montreal.

Commissions, trailing commissions (if applicable), management fees and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the ETF facts, fund facts or prospectus of the relevant mutual fund before investing. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated.

For a summary of the risks of an investment in the BMO Mutual Funds, please see the specific risks set out in the prospectus. ETF Series of the BMO Mutual Funds trade like stocks, fluctuate in market value and may trade at a discount to their net asset value, which may increase the risk of loss. Distributions are not guaranteed and are subject to change and/or elimination.

BMO Life Assurance Company is the issuer of the BMO Segregated Funds individual variable insurance contract referred to in the Information Folder and the guarantor of any guarantee provisions therein. The BMO GIF Information Folder and Policy Provisions provide full details and govern in all cases. BMO GIF products are offered through BMO Life Assurance, a separate legal entity than BMO Global Asset Management and wholly owned by BMO Financial Group. Segregated funds are only available for sale by individuals with appropriate insurance licences and are not considered a mutual fund. Segregated fund fees are higher than mutual funds as they include insurance fees to provide for the guarantees on deposits at maturity or on death.

Legal and regulatory disclosures

This information is for Investment Advisors only. By accepting, you certify that you are an Investment Advisor. If you are NOT an Investment Advisor, please decline and view the content in the Investor or Institutional areas of the site. The website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide a complete description of BMO Global Asset Management’s products or services. Past performance is not indicative of future results. It should not be construed as investment advice or relied upon in making an investment decision. Products and services of BMO Global Asset Management are only offered in jurisdictions where they may be lawfully offered for sale. The information contained in this Website does not constitute an offer or solicitation by anyone to buy or sell any investment fund or other product, service or information to anyone in any jurisdiction in which an offer or solicitation is not authorized or cannot be legally made or to any person to whom it is unlawful to make an offer of solicitation. All products and services are subject to the terms of each and every applicable agreement. It is important to note that not all products, services and information are available in all jurisdictions outside Canada.