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Daniel Marson, a neuropsychologist at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the University of Alabama, has been creating tools to measure different abilities. Now in clinical trials, his financial-capacity instrument differentiates basic skills, such as naming and counting coins, from higher functions, like detecting fraud. Subjects are asked, for example, to make simulated grocery purchases of one item, then three items, and to verify their change. They are also asked to explain parts of a bank statement and describe specific transactions on the statement. "It's still a human judgment," says Marson, "but we need objective standards."
Los Angeles movie and TV production manager Wayne Carmona observes that while his mother, 75, is "a brilliant woman with total recall," she suffers from dementia that clouds her judgment. She was snookered out of about $100,000 by various hangers-on, including a repairman for whom she bought a new truck. Carmona, 55, persuaded his mother to name him as her conservator with power to safeguard her assets. But the document, drafted by Hankin and approved by a judge, also grants her a monthly allowance of $2,000. She writes her own checks and, Carmona says, "has her pride and dignity." The lesson is that losing it doesn't have to mean losing everything.