"Are any of you concerned that you may be experiencing signs of early-onset Alzheimer's?" A social anthropologist recently asked this question of a group of us who were all aging Baby Boomer professionals.
Almost every person in the room slowly raised a hand. She then told us we could all relax. The human brain was not designed to multitask or retain the flood of information and data we experience daily. The sighs of relief were audible.
Information overload aside, some memory loss is normal as we age. Having some trouble remembering names or thinking of the right word to use in a sentence is a normal part of the aging process. Forgetting where you left something, not remembering why you came into a room, and taking longer to learn new things are also normal and not signs of more serious problems.
Serious symptoms of memory loss can include things like asking the same questions repeatedly, getting lost in familiar places, not being able to follow directions, forgetting to eat or bathe, poor judgment about safety, driving problems, and confusion over time, people and places.
While these symptoms can be indicators of the onset of serious diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, they can also be caused by other underlying issues. Medication side effects, depression, dehydration, Lyme disease, lack of vitamins, head injuries, and thyroid problems can all exacerbate memory loss.
You may be wondering what memory loss has to do with personal finances. In one word, everything. Someone with memory loss should not handle financial decisions. People suffering memory loss often forget to pay bills or pay them twice. They become extremely susceptible to being victimized by fraud and scams.
Unfortunately, the loss of mental capability often occurs gradually. By the time family members realize it's time to step in, someone may be in serious financial trouble. This is one more reason why it's valuable for elderly people to have someone monitoring their finances.
Several years ago an elderly client called our office requesting we transfer $50,000 into his and his wife's joint checking account. Since we knew there were ample funds in the account, my associate asked what they needed such a large amount of money for. "I don’t know," responded our client. He turned away from the phone and shouted to his wife, "Honey, what do we need $50,000 for?" She said she didn’t know, either. He then said, "Well, just make it $30,000."
We immediately began an audit of their finances and discovered a host of unpaid bills, including insurance policies that had lapsed. After bringing the clients current and reinstating their policies, we phoned their sons, who both lived out-of-state, to alert them to the issues we were seeing. Neither son was aware of how serious their parents' memory loss had become. They immediately made plans to visit.
The clients acknowledged that they needed help. We facilitated automating most of their payments, and they executed a power of attorney empowering their sons to take complete oversight of all their finances.
Our clients had a trusted advisor and a supportive family looking out for their best interests. Many elderly people aren’t as lucky.
Fortunately, there are resources available to help. You can find general information on eldercare resources at www.eldercare.gov. A listing of geriatric care managers is available at www.caremanager.org. There is even an association of daily money managers that will assist with bill paying duties at www.aadmm.com.
Facing the unkind realities of aging such as memory loss can be daunting. Planning ahead, having family conversations, and using the resources that are available can make dealing with those realities a little easier.