Dad was always good with numbers, managed the household finances, and car salespeople were no match for his negotiation tactics.
But, the last time you visited or talked to Mom, you noticed a few things.
Mail and bills seemed to be stacking up on the counter. Mom mentioned that Dad got her not one, but two brand new, state of the art, coffee makers. He also seems to be chatting more about “too good to be true” deals that he’s thinking about – making you and Mom a little nervous.
Money and memory loss are often entangled.
Confusion and struggles with money management are some of the most common early warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Why Money Matters are Often the First Sign
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are conditions that attack a person’s cognitive abilities. As nerve cells and connections in the brain deteriorate in unpredictable ways and locations, the symptoms can be diverse and erratic.
Memory loss is often subtle and undetected in simple day-to-day activities. However, with more complex activities, like money management, impaired cognition may become more evident. Often the complexity and necessity for multiple steps to organize bills and payments, balance bank statements, or make decisions related to insurance and investments reveal early-stage dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Signs of Memory Loss Related Money Problems
Being aware of some of the common money problems associated with memory loss can help you identify early-stage dementia.
Some early signs might include:
- Confusion while shopping or making a purchase
- Paying their bill or calculating a tip at a restaurant
- Mail and bills that pile up as they struggling to organize and schedule payments or understand bank and credit card statements
- An unusually high number of credit card purchases
- Strange purchases – items they don’t usually buy or purchasing large quantities of the same item(s)
- Unaccounted for money or withdraws from their bank account
Often loved ones experiencing dementia will begin to exhibit changes in buying habits, preferences, and frequency – often spending money they don’t have.
Spending may become more frequent and less purposeful. Your loved one may forget that they have already purchased something, like a birthday gift, and buy the same item again and again. They may become riskier in their investments or more vulnerable to financial schemes and scams.
If you notice any of these telltale signs, it’s wise to proactively protect your loved one from significant missteps with their money.
Steps to Take When You Suspect Memory Loss
Although this can be a touchy subject, as our loved one’s age, it’s often prudent to take steps to protect their finances.
Here are a few simple steps to help your loved one maintain a sense of independence while guarding against significant money mishaps.
- Reduce the number of credit cards they have available to them. One is typically sufficient and easier to monitor
- Reduce credit card spending limits or set up spending alerts
- Provide small amounts of cash (even a weekly allowance) and limit their access to ATM withdrawals
- Become a more active “assistant” in managing your loved one’s finances
As memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s progresses, it may be prudent to make more formal legal arrangements to better manage your loved one’s financial affairs. Ideally, this step should be done with respect, and while they still have an understanding of why these steps are being taken and that they are taken in the best interest of themself and their family.
These arrangements might include obtaining consent to manage their finances through a durable power of attorney and finalizing appropriate trusts and estate planning. All of these options are best discussed with competent legal counsel who is familiar with these types of matters.
Protecting Your Loved Ones from Financial Abuse and Fraud
Finally, no discussion of senior finances and money matters would be complete without highlighting seniors’ increased risk of being targeted for financial abuse, schemes, scams, and fraud.
These scams are increasingly perpetrated via unsolicited email and phone calls. Some of the most common include:
- Identity theft through scary and official-sounding threats often related to taxes, social security, or loans
- Get rich quick or too good to be true offers and investment opportunities
- Phony claims of sweepstakes or prize winnings
- Scams related to health supplements/cures, insurance, and medical devices
Financial abuse and fraud can be difficult to monitor since they often occur through one-on-one conversation via email, phone, or even in-person. Therefore, it’s essential to be vigilant for signs of financial fraud, like some of the following:
- Signatures on checks and documents that don’t look like your loved one’s signature
- Changes in legal documents (i.e., will, power of attorney, deed) that seem unexpected in the timing or gives authority to an unusual or unfamiliar person
- Missing cash, jewelry, or other valuables from your loved one’s home
- Suspicious legal paperwork related to investments or real estate
If you suspect your loved one is a victim of financial fraud, you should contact your local police department, State consumer protection office, or local Area Agency on Aging office.
Money and memory loss often go hand in hand, causing stress and challenges for your loved one and your family. If you’re currently in the midst of these challenges, we encourage you to seek help and support from one of the following agencies that specialize in assisting seniors and their families.
- National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
- National Center on Elder Abuse
Kensington Park and our exceptional staff can be another incredible resource in supporting your loved one and your family as continual memory care becomes essential. We encourage you to call or schedule a tour and see how we love and care for your loved ones as we do our own.