According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 30-million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes decline in memory, thinking and reasoning. While there are many warning signs of dementia – such as forgetting daily tasks, a loved one’s name, physical changes, changes in hygiene or unusual shifts in personality – something you may not have considered is that confusion and struggles with money management are some of the most common early warning signs of dementia. Here are some things to look out for:
General trouble with numbers
It may start slowly. Maybe you notice your loved one is having more difficulty with numbers in general, such as calculating a tip or figuring the score on a golf card. Maybe your loved one is a great card player, but now they’re having difficulty recognizing or processing the numbers on their playing cards. They could be having trouble recognizing the time on their clocks or dates on calendars. All of these things are common early signs that then progress into confusion with money.
They are neglecting their finances.
When visiting your parents, you see piles of unopened mail…or worse, creditor envelopes and collection notices. Yikes. Losing track of financial matters is one of the first signs of dementia for many. Check your loved one’s unpaid bills – in particular, check taxes, property taxes, insurance premiums and doctor’s bills to make sure they’ve been paid. If you can, examine your parents’ bank statements for signs of unusual activity.
They’re being (or have been) scammed.
People with Alzheimer’s and dementia are easy targets for scammers and unscrupulous salespeople. If you notice that your loved one is making strange purchases, giving to new charities or investing in questionable financial products – beware! These can all indicate the onset of memory loss and other dementia-related issues. Some charities will approach seniors over and over again…and if your loved one doesn’t remember donating, they may contribute each time they are asked to do so.
They’re giving large amounts of money to someone.
Folks with dementia can often fall victim to dishonest people. Sadly, this can include friends or family members – not just strangers. If you see financial documents or checks with signatures you don’t recognize or discover their will or life insurance has been changed without your knowledge, these could be signs your loved one is being taken advantage of. It may not even be money – look to see if there are items missing around their home, especially nice jewelry, furniture or family heirlooms. Can they explain where they went?
Unnecessary purchases or hoarding.
Are their bathroom shelves piled high with bars of soap or their freezer full of Thanksgiving turkeys? Repeatedly purchasing multiples of the same item is often an early sign that someone’s mental faculties are declining. An unwillingness to throw things away can also be a sign that someone’s grip on reality is fading. And, of course, if your loved one is showing signs of hoarding (to the point where their home is unclean, unsafe and unmanageable) that’s an even more serious warning to seek a safer living situation.
They make accusations related to money.
Because your loved one may not remember spending their money, they could grow suspicious. Maybe someone stole from them! Maybe they even accuse you! Many older adults will be wary of attempts to help with their financial affairs. The National Institute on Aging suggests taking these steps to help your loved one: giving small amounts of cash or voided checks to have on hand, minimizing spending limits on credit cards or having some cards cancelled. Both are good ways to help prevent excess spending for someone who’s having trouble.
Money and memory loss are often entangled, so if you notice these or other financial warning signs it is time to address the issue. This can be a touchy subject, so begin with a conversation. It’s important to help your loved one maintain a sense of independence while protecting them from significant financial mishaps. Your first steps may include reducing the number of credit cards in their name and in their hands, setting up spending alerts or just becoming more active in managing your loved one’s finances. It’s also important to make arrangements for the future. Discuss your loved one’s wishes for estate planning, trusts, and designating a durable power of attorney – while they are still able to participate in making these important decisions.