Healthy Living

Managing Financial Issues with Alzheimer's Disease

A subtle sign of Alzheimer's disease is issues with finances.

Managing Financial Issues with Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that does a lot more than takes away a person's memory. It also takes away their independence and identity. It's common to hear more about this disease when loved ones start forgetting their keys, or misplacing items. However, there is another, subtle sign of Alzheimer's disease that many don't even think of: Money management.

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It's actually very common for patients to lose their ability to manage their money. And it's a symptom that happens in the early stages of the disease.

Money problems happen in the early stages of Alzheimer's

Early on, a person may be able to handle basic tasks like paying regular bills and simple banking. However, as the disease progresses, it will become more difficult for them to manage things like balancing checkbooks or understanding bank statements and tax documents.  They might also not even realize that they unable to stay on top of their finances.

Finances, like religion and politics, often feels too taboo to discuss. Especially with families. But when the roles are reversed and you have to step in, this isn't a subject that should be ignored.

After someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or any other form of dementia, their finances should be included in their long-term care plan.  That means that when decisions are being made about where the person will live when they can no longer care for themselves, decisions about who will handle their finances also need to be made. Caregivers and family members should also do their research to learn what they can and can’t do when it comes to managing someone else's money.

Alzheimer's patients normally hide financial issues

Taking over a person’s finances is not an easy task for either party. An Alzheimer’s patient who is forced to hand over their money to someone else can experience a significant toll on their pride, independence, and mental health. As a result, many people will try to hide their money problems. So, caregivers and family members need to keep a watchful eye and observe any signs of money trouble.

Some of these signs could be:

  • Strange new merchandise, especially ones that cost a lot of money
  • Maxed out credit cards or credit card bills that show a sudden increase of activity
  • Bills that remain unpaid
  • Money missing from a bank account
  • Money stashed (and forgotten about) in different locations

Look out for these signs of serious trouble

Alzheimer’s patients are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse and fraud.  Sadly, they easily become targets for things like:

  • Identity theft
  • Threats
  • Phony offers of prizes or home or auto repairs
  • Insurance scams
  • Health scams

And, not all scams are run by strangers over the telephone.  Sometimes, it can be a ‘friend’ or an acquaintance that decides to use the victim’s vulnerability for their own financial gain. 

Again, it’s up to the caregiver to keep an eye open for signs of fraud.  If anything seems suspicious, then it’s their job to go to the police or other agencies that work with vulnerable fraud victims.

Signs that your loved one could be taken advantage of are:

  • The person’s assets like their home or car are sold or taken over, when they did not agree or initiate the sale
  • The person’s will has been changed without permission or without being aware of the changes
  • Clothes, jewelry or other valuables begin to disappear
  • Signatures on important documents that don’t look like the patient’s

The patient is convinced to sign official documents like a deed to a house, will or power of attorney without fully understanding what it is and why they are doing it.

Prevent it before it gets out-of-hand

There are steps you can take to help prevent financial disaster or fraud.  In a perfect world, these steps will happen early, when the patient is still aware of what’s going on. 

This is something a lot of people don't want to think about. However, putting the right tools in place will help to protect you and your family in the long run.

Clearly, state any wishes and instructions in a legal will.  Without a will, financial decisions will be left to a stranger.

Name a power of attorney and be sure that they have a clear understanding of how things should be handled.

Do a bit of a financial clean-up.  Close any accounts that are not necessary, make sure that all insurance is in place, and consolidate assets and debt if needed.  In other words, make things as easy as possible for someone to step in and help with the finances when the time comes.

Make sure to tread carefully

It’s never easy to step in and make financial decisions on someone else's behalf.  It’s not easy for the person who suddenly finds themselves in charge. And, it’s certainly not easy for the patient.  There are a few things you can do to help your loved one transition into this new world, while also allowing them to maintain some independence:

  • Instead of taking away their credit card, lower the spending limit
  • Talk to the patient about their finances, what is happening with their money and ask them what they wish to do. In other words, keep them involved, even if the final decisions don’t live with them
  • Make sure that the patient always has a small amount of cash on hand.  Having a few bucks in their pocket can give them a sense of normalcy
  • Giving him or her small amounts of cash or voided checks to have on hand
  • Telling the person that it is important to learn about finances, with your help

Put yourself in their shoes

For caregivers, this can feel like a huge burden. In this day and age, managing money is stressful in the best situations, so imagine what it's like to have to manage someone else's money. It can be scary, but you must remember to put yourself in their shoes. Think about it, how would you feel if you have to suddenly give your responsibilities off to somebody else? Even if it's your mom or your father, you are taking some of their independence away.

Try not to look at all of the negative things that come with this role. Focus on the positive. You are helping your loved one maintain some familiarity, while they face a disease that takes away almost everything.