alt=A piggy bank wearing a concerned expression is emptied and watches as hands scoop up the remaining coins.

Dealing with Dollars and Cents in the Midst of Dementia

As a journalist, I am constantly reading good journalism. It was one of the first things that my amazing editor and friend, Karen, told me when I started under her tutelage: Read the paper cover to cover. The reason being, good writing breeds more good writing. But, more to the point, good writing breads more awareness!

Once again, I stumbled upon an article from the New York Times discussing Alzheimer’s disease.1 This warms my heart every time because, as a newspaper with a vast readership, it is doing the work of getting the word out there about this disease. It also is doing the good work of making people more aware of the signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Inability to manage household finances

Carole Roan Gresenz, one of the people interviewed for the article and interim dean at Georgetown's School of Nursing and Health Sciences, recently published her findings from the Health and Retirement Study. It was a research project that looked at Medicare claims between 1992 and 2014. She found that those who have early-stage Alzheimer’s were up to 27% more likely to experience a large decline in their assets — savings, checking account, stocks, and bonds — than those who are cognitively well.2 The NYT article goes on to provide more research support for this sign of dementia.1 I encourage you to check them out too. For me, and I’m sure many others like me, we know - we have lived it.

Man in charge

My Poppop ruled his family with an iron fist and a large checkbook. It is not that he had a lot of spending power, but instead that he preferred a binder’s worth of large checks. It was cool to see him in the work, observing quietly over his shoulder as he diligently wrote out the information on the stub that would be left in the binder and then mail out the checks to pay the bills. (Yup, even 5-year-old me was a nerd.)

A diagnosis and a move

Fast forward a few years when, unbeknownst to me, he was diagnosed with dementia. The big thing happening in our lives at that point was that he had sold the home he had raised his seven children in (and a few grandchildren too). He and my Gram were moving to the mountains. I wasn’t sure why it was happening, but the adults seemed to have everything worked out, so OK. Poppop and Gram lived pretty well up there. Whenever we would visit it would be Cosmic Brownies, nature documentaries, rummy, and puzzles. Still good by my child-eyes.

Reinstating help from the support system

By the time Pop needed more than just my Gram to be around and they wanted to be back with all of our family and support systems, it was a problem. They moved into a house rented from a family member and not alone, my aunt and her kids lived there too, among others.

Financial problems are something you don’t realize how bad it is until it’s too late. At least that is the story I tell myself. By the time my grandparents moved to an apartment of their own, the wheels greased at the apartment complex by a few favors, my Mom would step in to do the bills. My Gram, as amazing as she forever will be, was not very literate. She completed only up to an eighth-grade education. One time she helped me sketch something out and told me how to spell Mikey, M-I-L-K-Y, in a knee slapper that will live forever in my own brain.

These two lovely ladies set up a system whereby my Gram opened the bills and placed them in the folder and my Mom would set aside time once a month to pay them with her. It was a solid system but the money was already gone. No one knows where any proceeds from the house went to this day. Public assistance and bankruptcy were both explored and used to the full extent possible given their situation. Unfortunately in our circumstance, the adults realized too late the cost of Pop keeping this task for too long.

Find what works

The two women mentioned in the article have found ways that work for them. While it may be a hit to the ego and feeling of a lack of autonomy to ask for help from a financial advisor or a family member, it may be a necessary step on the journey. I hope that the light shed on the situation by articles like this one, helps some more of “the adults in the situation” to take an extra look at how they may be handling finances.

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