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Spending Changes Can Be a Sign of Memory Loss

I am often asked what signs are common with dementia patients other than the obvious memory loss. A common sign that often goes unnoticed is changes in their spending habits. Here are some warning signs to watch for with elderly family members:

  • Late payments or double payments can be a sign of dementia. Watch for patterns of unopened bills or paying the same bill repeatedly. I am sure we have all done this once or twice but if you are seeing a pattern, it may be an indication of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
  • Watch for multiple subscriptions to magazines. I discovered that my father had over 40 subscriptions to magazines and renewed most of them many months prior to their due date. I started taken the magazines subscription inserts out of the magazines to try and help control this pattern.
  • Trouble counting change. I remember sitting with my father and he asked the waiter to help him with getting his cash out of the wallet. I would suggest ensuring that your loved one does not carry large bills. Also, dementia patients can often confuse dimes with nickels, as well as cash.
  • Today, shopping has become even easier with online ordering. Watch for purchases of the same item or an increase in online shopping for items that are not typical for your loved one to order. We all hear about hoarding with our elderly patients, so watch for signs to prevent shopping from escalating to the “hoarding” level.
  • Another common practice is allowing companies to have access to your checking account for online bill paying. Even though on the surface this might seem like a great idea to avoid late fees, but to a dementia patient you have to ask yourself are they giving this information to companies that should not have access? It is also challenging to stop online payments or even identify who they are on the statement. Stay involved in your loved one’s finances to ensure that they are not subject to fraud or overspending.
  • In my experience working in the industry, it is not uncommon for families to take advantage of elderly finances. If you are noticing an increase in “gifts” to families, make sure that it is appropriate and not affecting your loved one’s lifestyle. Most elderly people are on a tight budget and may need all the income that they get to maintain a safe and high quality of life.
  • Balancing a checkbook or working an ATM can also be a struggle for individuals with early dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you are noticing that there is an increase in withdraws from an ATM it might be because they do not remember going or where they put the money. The same with balancing a checkbook, if your loved one has always diligently maintained a checkbook but now is missing entries or not filling out the check, it may be a sign that assistance is needed with finances.

Most importantly, make sure that someone in the family has financial power of attorney and is aware of the elderly parent’s finances. This will be one of the hardest conversations as elderly parents do not want to share their situation with their children. However, if it comes to a point that they are not able to take care of finances on their own, families can have challenges helping them legally and safely. QCBN

By Leah Veschio, RN, MSN, CLNC

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