A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia can be devastating, both for the patient and their family. As a financial advisor, a significant concern I often hear from families is about money management and how the diagnosis can affect their loved one’s financial well-being.
Many organizations in the Atlanta area offer programs and resources to help patients and their families understand cognitive diseases and their progression. Though money management is just one component of general care, a well-organized financial plan and having systems in place can make the process a bit more manageable for everyone.
Here are some ways you can help a loved one who is showing signs of memory loss or cognitive decline:
Review or create a financial plan. While cognitive decline is in the earlier stages, it’s important to get together with your loved one to chart a financial plan. Often, the conversations are challenging or sensitive, however, this is the time to talk about their financial goals and vision over the next five to ten years. Familiarize yourself with their investment portfolio, cash flow needs, debt situation, insurance policies and estate plan. This will help keep everything on track and running smoothly as the disease progresses.
Get guidance from professionals. Those with Alzheimer’s and dementia often feel they have lost control of their own decision-making ability and may struggle with insecurity as the diagnosis progresses. However, by bringing in a professional, they can implement their own ideas with the guidance of a neutral third party. Having a written financial plan that addresses specific steps to be taken during the progression of the disease can be a critical resource for everyone involved.
Have a system to pay bills. Whether you assume this responsibility solely or it’s something you do with your loved one, be aware that Alzheimer’s and dementia patients have the potential to rack up debt and late fees due to unpaid bills. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one of the ten early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s is decreased or poor judgment with money.
Use durable power of attorney (POA). People showing signs of cognitive decline, especially those in the early stages of dementia, may not be entirely open to relinquishing their financial responsibilities. There comes a time, however, when it is in their best interest to allow someone they trust to help them handle their finances. Having a durable POA in these cases is essential. That person can keep a close eye on bank accounts, spending habits and credit card statements for any signs that once-simple responsibilities are becoming difficult to manage.
Be on the lookout for fraud. Scammers know all too well that those with memory issues, often the elderly, make for easier targets. Loved ones need to take it upon themselves to closely monitor for any signs and symptoms of fraud. You can help prevent or mitigate fraud in simple ways, like putting spending limits on credit cards and setting up automatic payments for monthly bills.
Foster a sense of autonomy. As the effects of cognitive decline become more pronounced, help your loved one maintain as much financial independence as possible. Even a small amount of spending cash can provide the feeling that they aren’t losing their autonomy completely.
Cognitive decline-related diseases have both emotional and financial impacts on both patients and families. Help is available, so take advantage of the resources in your area.
And, for a night of fun for a good cause, join Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Atlanta at the Battle for the Brain lip sync contest on January 17, 2019. The firm is participating in and sponsoring the event to help shed light on the current state of Alzheimer’s research.
Photo by Katie Harp
Lisa Taranto Schiffer
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