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Handling the Finances for a Loved One with Dementia

Handling a loved one’s finances can be a difficult task, particularly when that individual is afflicted with dementia. In fact, the inability to handle finances is often one of the first signs that a loved one has the disease. He or she might have trouble balancing a check book, or might pay bills more than once or not at all. A loved one with dementia might give away money or start hoarding it at the other extreme. Dementia leaves your loved ones open to financial risk and abuse, so it is important to recognize these signs.

For people with dementia, money can lose its meaning, so they may become careless with it, lose it or give it away. Financial transactions can prove problematic, to say the least. Adults with dementia may not be able to identify coins correctly, remember pin numbers at an ATM, use checks, understand how credit cards work, or pay bills and loan payments on time.

Caregivers and adults under their care need to think about these kinds of issues as soon as they are recognizable. In some cases, the caregiver is able to help directly; in others, it may be advisable to seek outside help. Having these difficult conversations with the patient while they have their faculties is very important. People in the early stages of the disease may be defensive about losing their financial independence. Taking over financial management for a loved one with dementia represents a level of deterioration and a role change or reversal.

If possible, caregivers and adult patients can create joint accounts or power of attorney for financial decisions. The sooner these options come available is better when the patient has capacity to engage in these decisions. People in the early stages of the disease may still be able to understand financial matters, but may be defensive about having their power taken away. Caregivers and families of patients can also keep an account with the patient’s name on it and leave manageable amounts of money so he or she will retain some financial independence and dignity.

Advance directives for financial and estate management need to be created while the person with Alzheimer’s is still able to make these decisions. A newly diagnosed person with Alzheimer’s and their family should move quickly to create or update a will or living trust to secure their estate. These documents state how a person’s assets and estate is to be distributed upon death as well as arranging for the care of minors and including funeral and/or burial wishes.

Families and caregivers can reach out to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the American Bar Association to find a qualified attorney to create the advance directives. If families cannot afford these options, or do not know where to turn, other sources of legal assistance may be available through local non-profit agencies, government web sites, state legal aid offices, and social service agencies.

A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.