With baby boomers aging and elderly clients growing in numbers, seniors are becoming an important market for financial advisors. Serving this lucrative demographic segment means adapting to their special needs — both physical and mental.

> Mobility and agility
The simplest way to get around senior clients’ limited mobility is to visit them in their homes. But not all elderly clients prefer house calls, according to Karen Henderson, eldercare specialist and founder of Long Term Care Planning Network in Toronto.

Some seniors like to “make a day” of a meeting with their financial advisor. That’s why you should equip your office with hand rails in hallways and wide doorways to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.

Says Glen Rankin, a certified financial planner (CFP) with Rankin Financial in Truro, N.S., accessibility is an issue that will only grow in importance in the coming years. With 70% of his client base over the age of 50, Rankin remodelled his office several years ago to include an elevator and extra-wide doors.

Seating is also an important issue for seniors, Henderson says. “A lot of seating is too low or too soft,” she says. Chairs should have high seating and sturdy armrests.

> Cognitive issues
A Canadian is diagnosed with dementia every five minutes, and the bulk of these newly diagnosed patients are elderly. That’s why cognitive decline is a major issue for advisors working with seniors. Even normal, age-related cognitive decline can present challenges for elderly clients and their advisors.

“Allow [your clients] time to process what you’re sharing with them,” says Léony deGraaf, CFP and eldercare counsellor with deGraaf Financial Strategies in Burlington, Ont. You might have to use your creativity to explain the same concept in several different ways before it’s understood, she adds. “It’s a slower process than with a typical, younger client.”

Make sure your older clients have updated their estate plans, deGraaf says, especially their power of attorney designations.

Henderson warns that mental decline isn’t necessarily something that hits someone in a single onset; it can occur in fits and starts. Meeting older clients on a regular basis will make it easier to note any cognitive changes, deGraaf adds.

Seniors can also fade in and out of mental capacity on the same day. That’s why it’s important that you begin each meeting by asking a few basic questions about your client’s accounts in order to assess what kind of day he or she is having. If it’s an “off” day, deGraaf says, you can still visit with the client, but reschedule any planning work.

Never be in a rush during meetings with elderly clients, Henderson says. It can add to their anxiety — and it’s rude. Remember that older people appreciate proper etiquette.

Confusion, repetition of questions and emotional vulnerability can all be signs of cognitive dysfunction, Henderson says. But these symptoms could also be caused by medication, illness or fatigue. Get permission from elderly clients at the outset to contact a family member if you are in doubt. A call to that relative might shed some light on the situation.

Says Henderson: “It boils down to how well the advisor knows the client.”