Cognitive health and age-related brain conditions are areas that have gained growing attention in various fields of research over the last few decades. Without a doubt, there have been great strides in knowledge that, on a very general scale, have helped Canadians recognize and build a better awareness around mental health and brain aging. While the overall movement has been positive in bringing cognitive health more to the forefront for many individuals, the unfortunate reality is that the female demographic has largely been overlooked from a research standpoint. Despite the fact that there are fundamental differences between the male and female brain, the majority of research has focused only on men. It hasn’t been until much more recently — through initiatives and organizations like Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI) — that biases in research and a focus towards studying female brain issues separately from men’s has started to take place.
This reality may come as a surprise for many, given the very fact that women are much more likely to succumb to brain-aging diseases and conditions. In fact, women succumb to depression and dementia twice as much as men do, and of all new Alzheimer’s diagnoses, 70 percent will be women.1 Statistics such as these are a striking eye-opener and act as a strong driving force for WBHI and its sponsors and partners like RBC Wealth Management (RBC WM). By turning attention to equalizing scientific study and using educational programs as the vehicle, the hope is to develop a greater understanding among women regarding their brain health, empower them with the tools to make positive changes in their lives, and make the connection between brain health and financial well-being and the importance of planning with that connection in mind.
Women’s Brain Health Initiative
Launched in 2012, Women’s Brain Health Initiative (WBHI) is a Canadian charitable organization focused on educational programs and research to combat brain-aging conditions that affect women, and also functions as the largest resource of information specific to women’s brain health. For Lynn Posluns, founder and president of WBHI, there is tremendous pride in knowing positive steps are being taken both to study and to promote women’s brain health because of organizations like hers. “I started Women’s Brain Health Initiative with two mandates in mind: to increase and fund research for women in terms of brain-aging diseases and to improve education and awareness around these issues and help women stay brain healthy for longer,” Posluns explains.
Historically speaking, brain health wasn’t a term that was well-established for women; rather it was the wider perspective of mental health that Canadians were more familiar with, both at the individual and institutional level. In the early days of WBHI, this presented a challenge for Posluns as she strived to gain support and bring to light the importance of looking at brain health from both a female and male perspective. Once she established a foothold, however, with sponsors such as RBC WM, who she notes “was at the forefront in recognizing this was an issue for women and that it was time to take a stance that this was important,” the charitable organization expanded faster and more broadly than Posluns had anticipated.
Over the years, WBHI has forged alliances within the scientific and medical communities both in Canada and beyond, and this has been very beneficial in augmenting the research component. For example, WBHI is part of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), which includes approximately 340 researchers across Canada, where gender is now being taken into account as part of research practice. Movements like this are tremendously positive for WBHI, as the organization’s efforts have influenced how scientific study is changing and it has also provided more opportunity to invest in the research to find answers for tomorrow. To fulfill their educational mandate and commitment, WBHI uses a number of channels to reach individuals and share valuable information, including a range of events for members, clients and employees of sponsors, and the general public. They also publish an annual magazine, Mind Over Matter®, distributing over 100,000 copies across Canada, and share everything from tips and recipes to research and articles from the medical community via their comprehensive online “Think Tank.”
Posluns is extremely proud of WBHI’s success within Canada and more recently into the US and globally, and feels confident this growth speaks volumes about the positive path ahead. “I didn’t imagine this kind of expansion five years ago, but it’s very apparent that the more we do collectively, the greater the power behind both the research and the education,” she shares. “Individuals, both men and women, need to understand that they are empowered to make positive lifestyle changes, that they have more control over their cognitive destiny than they realize, and by working towards equal representation in terms of research and scientific study, we may see new policies, approaches and potential treatments for women’s brain health that may be life-changing.”
RBC WM’s commitment to the cause
As a dedicated sponsor, RBC WM understands the importance of helping WBHI further both its research and educational mission. With support and assistance from organizations such as RBC WM, WBHI is able to grow and achieve success with the initiatives they undertake, ultimately helping them access and teach more women in every age demographic. As Posluns reinforces, “RBC WM strongly acknowledges education for all generations of women and the value of bridging the research with education from both a preventative and awareness standpoint.”
One of the key areas in which RBC WM has recently been involved is the development and launch of Millennial Minds™, which is a dedicated membership program of the WBHI’s Young Person’s Cabinet for educating and empowering younger individuals. This program centres around helping those under 40 understand the importance of taking care of their brain health now, and RBC WM is proud to have played a key role in supporting the creation of networking and educational events within this Millennial program.
Prioritizing planning among Millennials
Further highlighting the RBC WM partnership with WBHI, this edition of Perspectives also includes an accompanying article, “Financial planning tips for Millennials”, with specific tips and strategies for Millennials in regards to financial planning.
Engaging Millennials on the topic of brain health
Focusing on brain health, not only as women age, but also proactively helping younger women to make positive lifestyle changes, offers transferrable value in every aspect of life, whether that’s personal, family, professional, social, financial well-being or otherwise. Researchers now understand that by the time symptoms start to occur in regards to dementia or other age-related brain conditions, the damage has occurred decades before. Therefore, the earlier individuals begin making their brain health a priority, the more likely they will decrease their risk factors. This is precisely why WBHI is so focused on spreading the word and getting the science into younger people’s hands through programs like Millennial Minds™.
Six keys to protecting brain health
- Balanced nutrition
- Physical activity
- Stress management
- Mental stimulation
- Adequate sleep
- Social engagement
Connecting brain health with financial health
With the statistical actualities of age-related issues and female brain health, women need to recognize that understanding cognitive realities and working towards maintaining brain health are crucial factors for dealing with and managing their financial health and future in the best ways. In order for women to proactively and effectively apply it within their lives, the approach needs to happen on two main levels. First is recognizing that because research is showing a number of the risk factors are modifiable, women should be making positive changes wherever possible to promote cognitive well-being and to combat age-related brain issues. Then, specifically from a financial standpoint, it comes down to recognizing and accepting that cognitive decline may be a potential factor in their retirement and later years and may directly impact their livelihood and financial well-being. As such, it is imperative to turn a focus to that aspect of planning and have the appropriate structures and strategies in place to handle and effectively address potential needs.
Importance of planning for women
Specifically in the realm of wealth planning, an improved awareness of brain health issues as women age may be a very strong catalyst for making informed decisions in regards to their financial, retirement and estate needs and goals. Leanne Kaufman, Head of RBC Estate & Trust Services, has spoken at a range of client-facing events with WBHI and sees firsthand the positive impact of education and information sharing when it comes to engaging women in planning for their financial health, now and in the future. “For women, it’s vitally important to recognize that statistically speaking, there is a likelihood of facing a time when we are physically but not mentally able to sustain and protect our financial well-being, ensure our wishes and intentions are carried out, and choose the care and lifestyle that we want for ourselves in our later years. As a society, we have somewhat ignored that eventuality for both men and women,” Kaufman explains. With an aging demographic in Canada, however, the time is now to turn a focus to that component of planning.
“Women also need to be cognizant of the fact that, statistically speaking, chances are at some point in their lives, the financial responsibilities and burdens of the entire household will be on them,” Kaufman notes. With that in mind, and combined with the realities of age-related brain issues that affect women, ensuring financial and estate affairs are in order takes on a heightened level of importance.
Age-related considerations for women
Canadian statistics indicate that overall life expectancy continues to be on the rise, and that females are outliving males by approximately four years.2 The caveat here, however, is that for many women these years aren’t necessarily healthy ones, as many spend their later years faced with challenges associated with cognitive decline (or physical decline, or a combination of both). From a financial and estate planning perspective, this brings to light the critical importance of turning a focus to those decisions as much in advance as possible.
Kaufman recommends that women give careful and thoughtful consideration to how they want to live their later years, specifically after retirement or another trigger event takes place. “For many, this involves separating what it is that you want versus what you actually and may potentially need,” she notes. While creating a wish list of travel, hobbies or sports, gifts for children and grandchildren, or philanthropic goals is an important part of the process, all of those wants must be appropriately balanced with leaving enough for your actual and potential needs down the road. Unfortunately for many individuals and families, there isn’t a great deal of time spent on investigating what the fundamental costs of living may be, including housing, healthcare, assistance, and long-term care, over and above their general retirement and lifestyle wants and requirements. Furthermore, if individuals overlook age-related cognitive decline or brain-aging diseases as a factor, this may leave the door wide open for significant financial, emotional and family stresses.
For more details on the rising costs of healthcare and how to plan for it, please view “The changing landscape of healthcare in Canada” in the RBC Wealth Management Fall 2016 edition of Perspectives.
Tackling difficult topics
While it’s a topic the majority of individuals don’t like to think about and that many assume wouldn’t ever happen to them, the unfortunate reality is that cases of financial elder abuse are on the rise in Canada. In fact, in a 2015 report from the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE), it was noted that the prevalence of financial abuse among older Canadians was approximately 250,000 and that the most common perpetrators were adult children or grandchildren, spouses or ex-spouses or siblings.3 Other studies also indicate that a state of financial vulnerability may start to take place even before the onset or diagnoses of an age-related cognitive condition, which again serves to highlight how crucial it is to be proactive with planning.4
Some of the main examples where financial abuse of seniors often takes place include improper use of Power of Attorney or joint accounts, theft, involuntary gifts, undue pressure to sign documents, failing to repay a loan, sharing a home with a senior and not paying equal expenses, or a predatory marriage. While the very thought of these examples may seem unnerving or upsetting to some individuals, the key point to recognize here is that appropriate planning is one of the best methods to decrease and eliminate the potential of these situations occurring and to ensure an individual is financially protected.
The power of planning
With the specific considerations for women in regards to brain health and age-related diseases, as well as the larger population as a whole regardless of gender or age, the value of certain aspects of planning, along with working with estate planning and tax professionals as part of a comprehensive team with professional advisors, can’t be understated. In particular, two of the main areas that should be well-understood and prioritized, further to having a valid and up-to-date Will are Power of Attorney and Trusts.
Power of Attorney
Planning for the potential of incapacity is a step that all individuals should take, and choosing the right Power of Attorney is one way to ensure an individual’s best interests and intentions are upheld. As Kaufman notes, “Many individuals may have done a simple Will and Power of Attorney, but they may not have really given thought to who they have appointed, the impacts of that, and what the expectations are for that individual.” Selecting an appropriate Power of Attorney should include considerations around financial acumen, ability to travel, age and stage in life, organizational skills, potential for bias, ability to maintain family harmony, and knowledge of the associated duties. Given the demands of the role and to ensure financial protection in the event of a situation of incapacity, a valuable option to consider is independent third-party services, such as those offered by RBC Estate & Trust Services.
“As part of our incapacity solutions, we come in to help in one of two ways — we act as an attorney to manage the assets of an individual who has become incapable, and we provide assistance to individuals who have been named Power of Attorney by taking on some or all of the administrative duties,” Kaufman explains. With a team of professionals and the appropriate infrastructure in place, these services provide clients with assurance in successfully navigating situations of incapacity, as well as a highly effective method of protection.
Depending on individual situations, trusts may be a worthwhile option to consider based on the potential safeguarding they offer. In general, they allow individuals to transfer assets yet still maintain control over how those assets are used, through a named trustee. So when age-related financial vulnerability or potential family stress or financial abuse are a focused concern or even just a general consideration, trusts may function as a very effective means to protect assets. Much like choosing a Power of Attorney, selecting a trustee should involve the same careful consideration, and again here, some individuals may benefit from opting for third-party services. Specifically in relation to trusts, RBC Estate & Trust Services offers the establishment and administration of trusts, where they act as sole, co- or successor trustee, and offer a full range of support for those who have been named as trustee.
For more information on RBC Estate & Trust Services, please visit their website.
While brain health is a topic that has gained significant ground as an overall movement among the Canadian population, there is still progress to be made specifically in regards to issues that affect women, as well as how those issues and realities impact financial health and security. By engaging in the research, understanding risk factors, improving awareness of the connection between brain and financial health, and then turning a focus to educated wealth planning, individuals will be empowered in making effective decisions to safeguard their personal and family future, both emotionally and financially.