Switch to Digital Finances Can Be Beneficial and Detrimental to Dementia Patients

Difficulties managing money can be an early sign of dementia. With the pivot in recent years to fewer and fewer in-person and cash transactions, especially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, what impact is this having on dementia patients? A new study aimed to find out.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool recently investigated the effects of increased financial digitalization on dementia patients and their unpaid caregivers, through surveys of this group. The findings, published in the journal Dementia, showed that there was a mix of good and bad.


Dr. Clarissa Giebel is the study’s first author and Senior Research Fellow & Older Adult Subtheme Lead at the multi-partner Applied Research Collaboration North West Coast. She says, “People with dementia are facing increased digitalisation when managing their finances – from paying with a debit card in shops to direct debits and managing money online. Research into how people with dementia experience this growing digital interface is limited, so our qualitative study aimed to explore how the pandemic has affected finance management skills in dementia and its impact on unpaid carers.”

The team says their findings could be broken down into five themes. The first involved the early loss of financial skills, with some caregivers saying that in hindsight, there were troubles in this area prior to diagnosis. The researchers say this highlights the need for caregivers to be linked into the patient’s financial management services but to allow their loved one to continue to do what their capabilities permit.

Other themes related to the changes directly caused by COVID-19 restrictions, namely the limiting of in-person shopping and the rapid rise in doing business online instead. As to the first, most caregivers and patients had reported a boost in their social lives due to in-person shopping, with the regular trip also promoting established routines and longer-lasting independence. Many said they planned to return to in-person shopping as soon as rules allowed.


In the same vein, participants noted how quickly the pivot to digitalization happened as a result of pandemic restrictions. This meant many patients found themselves using online platforms to shop or to handle money. For some, this wasn’t much different than what they’d already experienced, and there were safety benefits for patients who were particularly vulnerable. On the flip side, there were difficulties for some respondents in finding their usual products or seeking out deals, which raised their shopping bills.

When it came to the process of digital payments, some caregivers said having a debit card was better because it didn’t require as much focus on remembering and understanding monetary values, and the limit for financial transactions was a helpful safeguard, as well. Direct debits were also beneficial for caregivers, removing something else from their already full plate. Other caregivers found themselves stopping their loved one from making unwise financial decisions with their bank accounts or cards, while some didn’t know how to handle online shopping and payment venues and had to seek the help of a younger relative.

The final theme that emerged from the survey was overall impact on the wellbeing of caregivers. The team says online shopping and bill pay became another task involved with the caregivers’ day-to-day routines. This could be especially problematic for those without any help.


The team says their research demonstrates a need for financial management support for caregivers, as well as a need for digital platforms to be more user-friendly for people with cognitive impairment.

To read the whole study, click here.

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