For people living with dementia, this debit card can unlock financial independenceJuly 7, 2022 | By Maura Monaghan
Jayne Sibley is a caregiver for her parents in Southampton, England, both of whom are living with Alzheimer’s, a condition that impairs a person’s memory and other cognitive abilities.
When Sibley’s father began living in a nursing home, her mother June was initially able to continue living independently. But as June’s condition progressed, Sibley noticed she was starting to mismanage her money. June would make cash withdrawals two or three times a day, then either lose the cash or give it away. She would also fall victim to phone scams, costing her tens to hundreds of pounds.
“My mum’s phone would ring four or five times a day with people pretending to be from [a utility company],” Sibley says. “Or call with even more obscure things, such as taking out an insurance policy on her washing machine … and because she’s well-meaning and kind, Mum just thought these people were trying to help her.”
Sibley, a marketing executive, saw the need to protect her mother’s everyday money and preserve her independence. So, she created Sibstar, a new debit card and app that allows people living with dementia to access and spend their money while keeping it safe by managing how and where that money can be used via the app.
“We’re about enabling people with dementia to continue living their lives the way they want to,” Sibley says. “Many people live well with dementia for many years, and I hope that tools like ours will directly contribute to this. So much about dementia ‘takes away,’ but we believe that doesn’t have to be the case when it comes to our everyday money.
“What we spend our money on is a big part of who we are — the clothes we buy, the hobbies and activities we take part in, the gifts we buy are all important to our identities and senses of self,” she says. “Having access to money also allows people living with dementia to remain connected with their community. A trip to the grocery store isn't just about stocking up the kitchen — it's also an opportunity to chat with a cashier or bump into a neighbor.”
These social connections are imperative to your sense of belonging and your sense of continuing to live life the way you choose, Sibley says. One study has indicated that even just one hour of social activity per week can significantly improve quality of life for a person living with dementia.
Sibley also wanted to ease the burden for caregivers, to whom falls the administrative task of chasing down refunds or compensation for their loved ones. And the problem is growing — in the U.K. alone, the amount of money stolen through fraud increased by 30% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. But the immediate solutions to the problem all fell short of both Sibley's and her mother’s needs.
Initially, Sibley scratched out the CVV number on the back of her mother’s card. This worked for a little while, but Sibley knew it wasn’t sustainable in the long term. Not only did it increase her mother’s confusion and stress when fraudsters would ask for a three-digit number that she couldn’t find, but the lack of access to her own money also led to a premature loss of independence.
Conventional caregiver cards — which allow caregivers to spend money on behalf of the person living with dementia — still lacked room for autonomy. Sibstar, rather, empowers people living with dementia to spend their own money for themselves, by themselves, all within safe limits that can be changed at any time in the app, making it a service that continually adapts to the inevitably changing needs of individual users.
People living with dementia and their caregivers load a Sibstar debit card with their chosen amount of money, which can then be managed via the app. Sibley knew that this solution would benefit many other families in addition to her own. More than 55 million people are living with dementia worldwide, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International, and that number is expected to rise to 78 million by 2030.
That statistic means there are millions more people who need to feel empowered — and millions more support networks and caregivers who deserve to have their stress alleviated wherever possible.
“When I started caring for my mom and dad, I gave up work for a while because I couldn’t do it all,” Sibley says. “So that meant that my own financial status and ability to socialize were compromised, and my mental and emotional well-being was therefore more vulnerable. By enabling the person living with dementia to live independently for longer, you delay or ease those caring responsibilities … [so that loved ones] can continue living their life as they choose as well.”
Working together with Mastercard was a key element for creating a product that users could trust. “I don't come from a payments, banking or finance background at all, so this was a huge leap for me to take,” she says. “Having the support of people at Mastercard has meant that we've had a team around us who know exactly what they're doing in this sector, and who were willing and able to help guide us.”
There’s been no small show of enthusiasm for this project. At the end of 2019, Sibstar was selected by the Alzheimer’s Society for its Accelerator Programme, which provides expert guidance and investments to assist in the development of innovative projects that help people with dementia to live well with the condition.
Sibstar has launched in the U.K. and Sibley hopes that it will enable the lives of people living with dementia and their caregivers. She would like to launch the card internationally and reach out to other groups of people with any cognitive impairment who could benefit from Sibstar.
“As a business, we're not here for profits alone,” Sibley says. “We are here to make a positive social impact on families like mine. And for me, unless this product does that, it’s not worth doing.”