I’ve heard more than one story about the significant consequences that have occurred when the person with dementia is allowed to continue to manage the family’s finances. In one case, the caregiver was concerned that her husband was missing payments, making expensive purchases and no longer managing their investments, but she was afraid to raise the issue with him. “He’s always managed our money.” “I don’t even know where our accounts are.” “I can’t take that away from him. It will hurt his manliness.”

Deena and I always had a totally equitable division of the financial responsibilities that served us well for many years. But after the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, holding up her part of our system became increasingly difficult and frustrating. An entry in my journal described how we modified our system over time.

June, 2020

I track when bills are due, and Deena writes the checks
• I track when bills are due and help Deena write the checks
• I track when bills are due and pay the bills on-line

I actually think Deena was relieved when managing our finances became my sole responsibility. She knew the process had become too difficult for her. And I made a concerted effort to keep her informed about the state of our finances. I would make a point of showing her the spreadsheet that I use to track bill payments, even when she didn’t understand what it exactly meant. But that helped her to feel more included in an important aspect of our life. I realized soon enough, however, that just paying the bills wasn’t the only aspect of financial management that I needed to worry about.

For quite a while after her diagnosis, Deena was able to use her IPad and phone to surf the internet, check her email, do some on-line shopping. One day a package arrived from Amazon. She said it was a free sample of a moisturizer that she wanted to try. I didn’t think much about it until the next month when another ‘free sample’ arrived. With the arrival of the same package in the third month, by which point she had used about a quarter of the original ‘sample’, I realized that I needed to check things out a little more.

When I went into our Amazon account, I realized that she had purchased the moisturizer on a recurring monthly basis. I was able to cancel the subscription and stopped what would have been a never-ending flow of expensive ‘free’ moisturizer. I didn’t try to explain it to Deena. She didn’t remember getting the moisturizer from one month to the next and there was no point in making her feel like she had done something wrong.

I learned after that experience to offer to help Deena place the order for whatever she wanted. The point wasn’t to prevent her from buying something she wanted, I just wanted to make sure I knew what was going on so I could monitor the situation.

So, what do you do when you’re concerned that the person with dementia is struggling to be a good steward of your financial resources? First, trust your instinct. If you think there is a problem, the chances are pretty good that there is. Second, make a plan and implement it, even if it’s really hard to do. The consequences of burying your head in the sand could be life changing.

Here are some ideas to try:

  1. Enlist the help of a trusted family member, son, daughter brother. Someone that is a little more detached from the emotion of the situation that can help move the discussion along.
  2. Involve your financial planner if you have one. If you don’t have one, consider getting one. Strategize about changes that can be made to protect your assets from unexpected or poor decisions.
  3. Find a “safe” way that the person with dementia can continue to be involved in financial matters to the degree that is appropriate. Can they help write checks? Be involved in tracking payment dates?
  4. Change to on-line bill payment. Once it’s set up, it’s the safest, most convenient way to pay bills and totally eliminates the need for anyone to track payment dates and write and mail checks.
  5. Give the person with dementia access to a specific amount of money for their discretionary use. A pre-paid debit card or a low balance credit card might work for this purpose. Or provide the person with dementia with a check book for an account with a specific amount of money. Be sure to have overdraft protection on the account in case it gets overdrawn. Just carrying a checkbook is enough to make some people feel more in control of their life. I always made sure that Deena had cash in her wallet. It helped make her feel independent even when she had the same five $20 bills in her purse for 6 months.