One of the things that keeps Momma up at night during her Sundowning episodes is wondering whether she has enough money. She’ll go through her purse countless times in search of cash, a checkbook, a credit card…something. Anything that tells her she is okay financially.
Unfortunately, Momma is beyond the ability to write a check, keep a checkbook, or handle cash. We took that over for her (my husband, in particular) several years ago.
When Mom was still in her Milwaukee home, one of the first telltale signs of memory loss was the bank and credit card statements piled on the dining room table. Each statement had items circled and little question marks for charges she didn’t remember making and checks she couldn’t account for. When I ventured to take a peek into her checkbook ledger, it was clear that she had been trying to make sense of it, even going to her bank to have them help her. I noticed that her check numbers bounced all over the place, which indicated she had several checkbooks going at once.
Next to taking the car away from her, convincing her that it was time for us to help her with bill paying was right up there in difficulty level. Mom was in the stage of Alzheimer’s where she had begun hiding things, including her checkbooks. Unfortunately, she hid them so well she couldn’t find them herself. When she couldn’t find them, she’d just order more.
“The talk” about helping her manage her finances occurred over a period of a few months. Gently and one “spoonful” at a time, including visits to her lawyer to set up proper legal durable power of attorney paperwork while she was still decisional, and to her bank, to make sure we had access to her accounts so that we could ask questions and help the bankers help her (as they had begun noticing her cognitive changes too).
About two years ago, when her memory loss progressed to the point where she could not live alone, we moved mom into a senior apartment near us to provide even closer supervision and help. Even though she trusted us to help her in all things, I can’t tell you how many times she woke me during the night to ask me where her money was. She would just plain forget. Even now that she resides with us, her financial standing is still of great concern to her.
Throughout the course of this disease, in addition to answering her questions over and over again, we have created several tools to help alleviate these concerns. We’d like to share two of them.
In the earlier days of her disease, while she was still in her own home with me making weekly visits, I made up a simple little notebook for her to keep in her purse. On each page, I wrote down some of the answers to her most oft asked questions.
- When are you coming to visit me?
- How will I grocery shop?
- Who pays my bills? Are my bills paid? and variations of this.
- Why can’t I drive my car?
- Who will take me to church? to the beauty parlor? to the doctor?
- How do I use the phone?
- How does the TV remote control work?
Banking and investment paperwork befuddles many an elderly person. Imagine how much that confusion is compounded when the element of Alzheimer’s is added into the equation. From what we read about the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, problems managing finances usually begin to manifest itself in about Stage 4 (which was spot-on for mom). We discovered that at this stage it was best to redirect the paperwork to our house, then condense the information for her on one single piece of paper (Charlotte-Financial-Update-BLOG-Sample). Wayne updated it each month and printed it on brightly colored paper so it would be easy to spot if she would hide it or put it away. Mom usually kept it on a clipboard, so that made it a little harder to hide. She loved and appreciated this information and would spend a lot of time going over her “paperwork,” which would make her feel more involved.
As dementia progresses, the monthly report Wayne now prepares for Mom became less detailed. It now fits on a half-page and answers only her most frequently asked questions related to how much money she has and where it’s located. Mom carries it in her purse, discovering it over and over again. It warms our hearts to see her going over her paperwork with the dignity that comes with having appropriate levels of involvement in her financial affairs.