Giving Up Control When You Have Alzheimer's Isn't Easy


The family dynamics change as parents age, and if your mom or dad suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia, you can expect to reach a point where you must take control of their finances and decisions.

The role reversal can be challenging, and you have to know when it's the right time to step in without damaging their self-esteem.

Adding to the emotional stress is the prospect of wresting control when someone won't easily surrender. Often, individuals who are experiencing cognitive decline don't recognize just how impaired they have become, and a common behavior due to memory loss and confusion, is becoming more suspicious of those around them.

"Especially someone with dementia, it is very difficult because sometimes they don't recognize you even as your daughter or son or husband," says Deanna Lueckenotte, author of "Alzheimer's Days Gone By."

It's important to have the legal documents in place so your parent is prepared to give you or a family member power of attorney when the time comes, and to avoid a court battle over control.

Here are three steps to take that might help reduce the emotional stress of stepping in.

1. Build a network to recognize red flags.

People who see your parents regularly can give you a heads up if they notice changes in their actions, related to sleeping, eating, or tasks such as paying bills.

Their spouse or a friend may alert you that your parent is not sleeping at night and wandering around, for example. Or you may learn that they're treating their friends to lunch too often and may be putting themselves in a bad spot financially.

Lueckenotte says one family recently found out something was wrong with their mom, who lives in a small town, when they got a call from a neighbor saying a warrant was about to be issued because she was writing thousands of dollars in hot checks.

"It's a lot about educating the support system and people around them, too, saying, we're trying to give mom the best quality of life," she says.

The Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Alabama-Birmingham identifies these warning signs for declining financial ability:

  • Memory lapses: Forgetting to pay bills or paying the same bill multiple times, or difficulty remembering personal property or an estate plan.
  • Disorganization: Problems keeping track of bills, statements, taxes, and other documents.
  • Math mistakes: Making errors in every day life - such as tipping and making change - and balancing their checkbook.
  • Confusion: Difficulty understanding basic terms and concepts and understanding personal estate plans, despite repeated explanations.
  • Impaired judgment: Questionable or poor financial decisions.

2. Monitor their comments.

Your parent may start complaining about bills, for example, which could indicate they don't realize they didn't pay it.

"They may say, ‘I don't know what's up with the electric company. I've already paid them and they sent me a notice," Lueckenotte says. "You truly have to listen to what they're saying and take that daughter hat off. It's kind of like you're listening to a teenager and what are they saying to me?"

3. Enter into their reality.

You may think you can't lie to your parent, but Lueckenotte says that if they don't recognize you, it may be more confusing or upsetting to have a discussion about taking control.

You may have to step in on the financial side by paying the bills, but still let them pay the bills, using a duplicate "play" checkbook. You also can set up automatic bill payments that are deducted from their bank account, taking away the option of mailing a check.

"If your mom thinks she's 40 years old and you don't even exist yet, you're not going to be able to rationally talk to her," she says. "Park your reality to the curb and go where they are. If they want to pay their bills, let them pay their bills, but they're really not paying them."

The emotional stress can escalate if your parent can still communicate with you, but think they are handing all of their power over to you.

"There are ways to still give that quality of life but where you are not overwhelming them or making them feel like they are not worth it," Lueckenotte says.

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My mnl has a lawyer and her son my husband got her to up-date her Will with him, me and a close relative for the house she owns. However, we swapped houses to live in years ago with her request when her husband passed. She thought we should have a bigger house. We live in her house and she WAS living in our house, however, since the mild AZ incidents we had her move back over to her original house with us which she don't remember she use to live here sometimes. Anyway, do you think the way the will is set-up that it is fine before her memory gets too worse years later? The close relative is no problem for she is a very good religous person. The reason for the up-date of her Will was because of relative we couldn't trust so we had her taken off.

Second she draws Medicare retirement and it goes directly into her bank account which she had her son-my hubby put his name as well to help monitor her money. We had a relative that took advantage of her and spent all of her IRA savings around 30g's. That relative is no longer welcome.

My mnl never changed her address when we swapped houses because the house is just across the street. So now she is living back in her own house but with us.
Should we for any reason call Medicare to inform them she was diagnosed with AZ or just leave it alone. Right now my husband gets her money out if she wants to spend it on anything when we go shopping so that she has some money and that way she has some indepence feeling too. However, what she don't spend she tend to lose it in her room but, it better than letting that selfish relative that we had hanging around that was supposely helping her. That just burns me up every time I think a relative can even do that to another relative.
Inaddition to taking money out of her account, we also take some out when we get her monthly medicine and some medical bills but that is about it. Should we be keeping records of what we take out for her and what is spent on bills for further reference down the road. We cannot file for 2011 taxes on her for she has only been living with us since Septmember.
My mom signed a durable power of attorney years ago. Now that I have to use it, she goes to the banks and revokes it. SHe has done this twice, and the bank is going along with her. I've put a call in to the lawyer that drew it up, no response yet. But shouldn't banks be aware of what a durable poa is meant to do?
"You may have to step in on the financial side by paying the bills, but still let them pay the bills, using a duplicate "play" checkbook. You also can set up automatic bill payments that are deducted from their bank account, taking away the option of mailing a check."

How do you do this? My dad's bills are a mess but he hasn't let me help him with it in the last 10 years of trying. He could have been debt free by now and not still working at 80 with probable alzheimer's. I have POA but I think it was only over medical decisions...