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Empty on Full
“Empty on  Full”
For those caregivers who are living the journey of Elder Care, I found this reflection from Susan Zimmerman, MSW, CFP especially poignant.

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July 2014 Edition
Volume 11 Issue #6
Hi Friend

Happy July…We are in the midst of summer and fun season.  I hope yours is wonderful.

This month’s newsletter is on an important topic that affects so many of us in different ways. Whether we know and love someone who struggles with memory or care for someone with medical limitations, we want to help productively.
This was meant to be a short newsletter but there is so much to say.  And you can get some additional information from the video I was a part of for the Vermont Alzheimer’s Association.

Always the Alzheimer’s Association has much information to guide those affected.  

Peace and Prosperity,

The Aging, not so Aging around Memory and Money Management

“Brain injury in Vets tied to higher Alzheimer’s risk.“ The headline read in this week’s USA Today. The issue of dementia is a relevant topic to all age groups and populations. Professional athletes, soldiers, and the aging are the most talked about groups. However, all around us are evidence of what used to be considered senile dementia in the elderly. Not so anymore as we recognize this medical issue which dates back to long before Ralph Waldo Emerson was recognized to have memory deficiencies.

Memory issues most often pop up slowly. They are almost unnoticeable and at least easy to ignore and write off if we are not with someone for long periods of time. But what if the person in question is your spouse? Or what if you are the main caregiver? Or find that your life is being impacted as you notice financial decision making changing?

You need to pay attention to the little details and notice things on a regular basis. Then, work with medical professionals to serve the affected person in the best way possible. There are many reasons someone’s memory or decision making may be impaired. Medications, stroke, and medical issues are most common. However, even dehydration and stress may contribute. Do not jump to conclusions, rather, know things change over time. Be sure to work with a medical professional and the person who needs the help to find the best practical solutions for coping with their needs. This is about their quality of life.

The most common advice I hear from medical professionals to give the person choices rather than tell them what they cannot do. And though I have heard from a Social Worker I respect that “Someone with memory problems should not be managing money,” as a financial professional who always considers emotions with sound financial decision making, I think there are compromises along the way before extremes are brought to the forefront.

Most headlines recognize the soaring medical costs associated with dementia care. However, there is the individual costs that come with the details of managing money, preserving retirement and being sure there are sound long-term financial decisions being made. Even seemingly small problems today could result in major implications down the road.

At a recent retreat I was attending, I had lunch with Judy, another attendee who admitted this was the respite she needed from being hyper vigilant at home. She was very concerned about her husband’s progressing dementia and his need to control some of his finances. In our conversation at lunch, we came up with some basic options to handling the difficult situation. We both recognized the need to be financially careful and personally respectful of someone used to handling money. Bits of independence at the appropriate time is critical to their peace of mind, even as their memory diminishes.

Here are the ”Tips to Consider” when giving someone with Mild Cognitive Impairment the freedom and respect they deserve in an already tough situation.  Maintaining the financial and practical aspects of solid financial life is the overall goal.

1. Mail

Yes, the daily incoming mail and paper arriving at the door can be overwhelming to someone’s diminished mental capacities. (Email in itself with its speed and frequency is another complex task.)

Solicitations  from charities and other not so well meaning organizations. There are organizations that pry on the elderly requesting money or else their Social Security will be discontinued. These and other legitimate charities keep people on their lists and mail most often to those who have already given. When a person cannot remember if they have given or do not know how to review their checkbook, then a cycle of unnecessary giving begins.

Offer to help sort mail, electronic and otherwise. Or have the person set the mail aside for you to go through together. This is the way to handle the monthly incoming bills together and for both of you to know what they are.

Review the envelope: By offering to mail letters for someone, you can screen the outgoing mail for proper addresses as well as for problems.

One doctor I know asks patients with the hints of memory loss to address an envelope to themselves or someone they know. This relative simple task is difficult for those in certain stages of memory issues because they have spacial as well as memory issues. So placing the information in the right place is difficult.

2. Cash management

Change is difficult for someone with memory loss. So changing how they manage money can be difficult as well. If they never managed their money, this is not the time for them to start. If they always did, taking all financial aspects of their life away may cause them real stress.  There are ways to lower risk and manage what they are handling.

Why not have a checkbook? This does not need to have much money in it. But if it gives a sense of security, then this helps the person maintain more of a normal life. Someone can still pay bills with them either from their personal checkbook or one that holds more of their assets.

Because of all the on-line capabilities, a power of attorney or loved one can review the checkbook electronically. This way another set of eyes are watching what happens and any errors or problems can be caught early.

Work with your banker on what type of accounts work best. Many have different options. Most have accounts that there is one owner, who could be a loved one, but a signer can use the debit care and write checks on the checkbook. Only the Owner can open and close the account though.

Minimum: How much cash they can afford to lose? There are different extremes of memory loss. This story is the far extreme of care someone needed. However, the example may help a caregiver frame the answer.

Many years ago when I was at a Zen yoga retreat, I heard a wonderful speaker. He related his visits to see his Dad at care home who was living with dementia. During each and every visit this elderly man would ask his son to borrow money. He had no need for money. The place he lived provided meals and care and even the daily paper. This son at first tried to reason with him. Then, he spoke to the staff, who said, “Do not give him money, he will only lose it.” Finally, the son sought his own counsel. The next time he went to visit his father, he was ready. The father asked his son to borrow twenty dollars. The son reached into his pocket and gave his father a $20 bill. His father’s warm and appreciative smile made the son’s day. So each time he visited he was ready for the question and grateful he could make his Dad happy for those few moments. He shared what he could spare.

3. Credit

Debit Cards are attached to checking accounts and look like credit cards.  Because they are limited by the amount in the account, this may be a good way to manage not overspending due to memory loss.

Credit Cards do have a maximum credit line. The holder is allowed to lower and sometimes raise them with a phone call. So if a holder only has a $500 or $1,000 credit limit, their liability is reduced.  Yet, they still have the freedom of using a credit card.

Credit Reports should be checked annually by everyone. For someone with memory loss, the report can reveal overlooked accounts that need to be addressed. To halt an individual from using credit unnecessarily at this point, a freeze can be placed on your credit report. No one can no longer be offered credit if they have a credit freeze. This can prevent the person from making a large impulsive credit purchase.

4. Financial Documents 

Be sure to know where the important financial papers are kept. Mortgages, insurance policies and investment statements are important. Someone should always have an extra copy or know how to find these documents in case of an emergency. With on-going dementia, the papers or electronic files often get moved or misplaced, so a bit of prevention now will help in the future.

5. Estate Planning Documents: Power of Attorney  

Involving Someone Trusted: Judy called on her husband’s oldest daughter who was an accountant and legally established as his power of attorney. He trusted her and was willing to work with her to have her help him pay the bills. A family member, bookkeeper, or trust officer may be called on to help you and your loved one take care of the finances. This is an easier transition if there is a Power of Attorney in place. 

This is not a comprehensive list. There are several more issues that wrap around finances and a stable sustainable life for your loved one. Living situations, driving and other important decision making are some that came to mind. This is just the pieces that were woven together at lunch one May day.  (Thank you Judy!) May it help you now or someone you know. You are not alone and there are resources out there. 

There are many reasons someone’s memory or decision making may be impaired. Medications, stroke, and medical issues are most common. However, even dehydration and stress may contribute. Do not jump to conclusions, rather, know things change over time. Be sure to work with a medical professional and the person who needs the help to find the best practical solutions for coping with their needs. This is about their quality of life.
C.D. Moriarty is a financial speaker, writer and coach. She is dedicated to empowering others around their money so they can achieve their dreams. She is living her dreams by residing in the Green Mountains and helping others through her work. She can be reached through her website at
(888) 449-8081
PO Box 293, Bristol, VT 05443
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