Financial mismanagement a warning sign of Alzheimer’s

Published 2:43 pm Friday, December 17, 2010

With Americans living so much longer today, it’s important we become more adept and aware of signs of trouble with our aging parents or spouses.
In many households, the roles of the partners were based on what each saw in his or her family when growing up. Without trying to sound sexist, quite often the man of the house took care of paying the bills and financial management while the woman of the house was the manager of the household, including the budget and household purchases that occurred on a weekly or monthly basis.
So, what’s this have to do with Alzheimer’s disease? Whether it’s the spouse or the adult child involved, attention must be paid if the mate or parent shows any signs of forgetting how to handle money. This can include the inability to understand money, balance the checkbook, manage credit, contracts or agreements, or simply failing to monitor and pay the monthly incoming bills.
If your parent lives alone, this is especially important because by the time you realize mom or dad has stopped paying the mortgage, rent, insurance or electrical bills, it could be too late to rectify the damage done. Many Alzheimer’s experts are in agreement that the loss of this abstract skill is one of the first signs of early dementia.
Why didn’t the bank notify you that mom had been cashing large checks on a regular basis? The answer to that question is complex and runs along a very narrow line of placing the bank in the uncomfortable position of possibly violating their customer’s right to privacy. Even doctors have a difficult time getting in front of the problem of competence with their patients. It’s usually not a good idea to challenge a person’s competency, particularly if that person can readily say to you that it’s none of your business or walk out of the appointment in anger. The determination of competence isn’t a quick or easy process, and having someone declared incompetent is a difficult and costly legal procedure.
Then there’s the question of what if the assessment made by a banker, lawyer or other non-medical professional is incorrect? That could lead to some serious liability issues. Remember, their first duty is to their clients.
In the situation of mom being a client, she may have been very clear about requiring the physician, attorney or financial advisor not to discuss any personal information with others in the family. Imagine if your aging father’s attorney makes the determination that your dad is not competent, and rather than allowing dad to execute a major change to his will, withdraws from representation.
Is that really in your dad’s best interest? But can he or she risk allowing dad to sign a document that may be subject to a future challenge of dad’s competency at the time of signing?
What’s the solution?
It’s a matter of not just asking or assuming things are okay with aging parents, but taking the time to verify that credit cards are not being maxed out, and the rent, mortgage, telephone, water and electrical bills are being paid in a timely fashion.
This is one of those gray areas of trying to be proactive early, but not seeming to try to take control of the financial life of our loved one. If you sense a problem or start seeing problems, don’t wait.
Have your spouse or parent evaluated by a geriatric neurologist – it’s not just an act of personal responsibility, but of caring and love, and something that could mean the difference between maintaining a lifestyle and financial ruin.

Ron Kauffman is a geriatric care manager and certified senior advisor. He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available at, where you can also listen to his weekly Podcasts. He can be reached at 561-818-0039 or by email at

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