Managing Financial Turmoil in the Face of Alzheimer's Disease

Balancing the Checkbook
Balancing the Checkbook

Financial turmoil and Alzheimer's disease are inextricably connected. The mishandling of finances can be one of the first signs of cognitive impairment, and can have a monumental impact on people with Alzheimer's that must be addressed early on. And once the disease takes hold, the cost of caring for a person with Alzheimer's can be shocking, if not overwhelming, without some attempt at proper planning.

People with Alzheimer's almost inevitably have serious problems managing money as they progressively lose their cognitive abilities. From counting change and calculating a tip to balancing a checkbook and making investment decisions, these once-simple tasks can become a bewildering undertaking. A person may unknowingly double-pay or even triple-pay a bill, revise their will based on manipulation by a family member or friend, make unintended contributions to telephone or mail solicitations, or be exploited by a stranger or even a relative.

As the difficulty with managing finances becomes more burdensome, it's important to determine the best next steps for your loved one. Keep in mind that it can be an extremely tough transition when a person with Alzheimer's has to surrender their financial power to a spouse, relative or even their child. Although necessary, this can be a degrading process and can cause agitation and frustration, so I recommend approaching these conversations very delicately.

The expenses associated with caring for someone with Alzheimer's represent a huge concern for families. According to the Alzheimer's Association's 2015 Facts and Figures Report, the cost of Alzheimer's disease nationwide is estimated at $100 billion per year in terms of health care expenses and lost wages of both patients and their caregivers.

As the Director of Family and Community Services at Banner Alzheimer's Institute, I have helped guide many families who are extremely worried about their loved ones and their financial status. While no two situations are the same, I've listed here some tips in attempting to manage the financial devastation the disease can cause.

Plan ahead by appointing a financial decision-maker in the family and establish who will have the power of attorney. This will help you in the overall management of your loved one's finances.

Meet with an elder law attorney in the early stages of the disease, to evaluate your family's overall financial situation. You need to determine the full financial status of your loved one to allow you to better prepare for services before they are actually needed.

Take a graduated approach to transition finances. The person with Alzheimer's may feel a loss of independence, so it's important to do this delicately; for example, a wife may ask her husband in the early stages of the disease to show her how he manages the finances so that "one day" she can take over if needed.

Help the person convert all their billing to auto-pay with online banking. This will remove the need to remember individual due dates and ensure all bills are paid on time. Online banking will also give you the freedom to manage finances from a distance if necessary.

Determine how to use a long-term care policy. If there is a long-term care policy in place, make sure you know when to use it to gain the maximum benefit before drawing down your savings.

Become familiar with what benefits may be available for your loved one. For example, if he or she is a military veteran or surviving spouse, there may be Veteran's Administration benefits from Aid & Attendance if they served during a period of war. Also, your local Area Agency on Aging may have funding available through the Federal government respite services that could offer some assistance.

Navigating the world of Alzheimer's can be extremely draining and overwhelming at times. Aside from planning ahead financially, it is helpful to join a caregiver support group to learn about available resources and to become part of the Alzheimer's community. One resource for families to stay up to speed on the latest advancements in treatment and research is the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry: Caregivers can also connect and learn more about the disease through the Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative's Facebook and Twitter pages.