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My mother-in-law is 65. The past year we noticed that her memory had begun to decline. She has been on a multitude of memory altering medications for years due to chronic pain, anxiety, and depression, but we knew something was definitely different when she called to ask if her parents had passed away and if not, where do they live now. (They both passed within the last 10 years.) We just last week received her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s, but they want to retest in 9 months because depression, anxiety, and isolation due to the pandemic could be contributing factors. Also, she was unable to complete testing because she was so fatigued before the end. The results are likely correct, but the doctor cannot say they are absolutely the diagnosis due to incomplete testing.


We are in the process of convincing her to give her daughter, my sister-in-law, power of attorney, but she flip flops between accepting help and being extremely stubborn, paranoid, and has a victim complex. She has always been like this, but with her being hyper aware that her memory is declining, she has doubled down on the paranoia and resisting “control” instead of accepting that our help is a positive for her wellbeing. We all (her 2 children and their spouses) want her to be safe and healthy, but she perceives it as wanting to control her life, to take everything she loves away from her, and put her in a home to get rid of her. The opposite is true and we try very hard to reassure her of that.


We have been struggling with her online purchasing. I assume getting POA asap is our best bet, but there seems to be some limitations/resistance considering she is still mostly with it. She has been getting fear mongered by Facebook ads and YouTube into purchasing supplements for herself and her pets. She sometimes will spend hundreds of dollars at a time in the middle of the night on these supplements and have no memory of the purchases the next day. Then, when she calls the bank to check her balance and recent charges, she thinks there’s fraud and cancels her card. She has had at least 4 new debit cards (probably more) this past year due to fraudulent purchases that she made herself.


With her diagnosis, she is currently and knowingly “doing her research” and purchasing supplements, nutrition books, and online classes from websites that say they will help with memory loss. I look up information on these websites and it’s all mostly fear mongering and outdated information geared towards taking advantage of people just like her. But she refuses to see it that way. She thinks we’re just trying to control her and prevent her from getting better. She is on a fixed income and doesn’t have the extra money to drop $300 on books and webinars about nutrition when she eats a very healthy diet and takes the supplements and medications prescribed by her actual doctors who are truly invested in her wellbeing.


I guess my main question is, does having POA give the holder the right to cancel purchases that are obviously very bad for MIL’s financial health while she is still with it enough to know exactly why she made the purchase? Enacting POA seems like such a grey area because my MIL knows exactly what she’s doing, but she isn’t making the logical connections on why she shouldn’t do it. Her mental health and flip flopping is a whole extra layer that complicates things. We never know if we’re getting the woman who is willing to receive help or thinks we’re out to get her.


We’re all so new to this so I apologize if this didn’t flow as well as I intended. There are so, so many details about her situation that I left out because I could write a novella on her whole situation.

If there is any chance she takes a sleeping med at bedtime (like Ambien), online shopping not being remembered is very common. Meds, such as for pain, that have been used over a long period of time create all of the problems that you have described. Paranoid-thinking people are doing things against them, bi-polar high type shopping/extreme things, looking for meds or supplements that tout quick fix to depression/pain/other problems. Pain meds quite often cannot fix the initial problem as time goes on. In fact, the original problem becomes exacerbated even when the meds are taken in bigger quantities.

You might want to talk with a doctor to see about getting her into a rehab facility to get her off her meds. And include a pain management doctor in her care to deal with the pain issues - a doctor who will actually try procedures to reduce pain instead of increasing pain meds. More than likely, she will need long term rehab because people need medical oversight to get off long term use.

Lived this nightmare with a relative, so your post sounded all too familiar.
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LoopyLoo May 12, 2021
Meds are not a quick fix. At all. Nor do they create problems when prescribed by competent physician, or result in needing rehab to get off them.
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I would be seriously tempted to meddle: lock the bank cards up, freeze the a/c like when cards are lost, hide the charger for laptop/computer power cord, disconnect wifi. Just to buy time.

But. Besides not being legal, the morals are pretty murky...

Would she agreed to a new 'spending account'? Put the other cards in a safe place together (whether you left them there or moved them would be up to you).

While setting up this new spending account for her to use online, maybe the other accounts could be deleted (from electronic wallets, PayPal, whatever easy payment options she has stored ready to use in her phone/PC). Only the new one will work.

She may be just too suspicious to try...

If so, call her bank. Tell them there has been many unusual purchases & you are very concerned about fraud. Could THEY call Mother & check out her recent spending habits? She may well deny them...

I'm going to continue to think on this problem...
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She must be scared, and is trying to get handle on it by trying to make plans, as is your family. I'm sorry.
They say it again and again, and it's so true, that being calm and steady and having a routine are key for the person.
If you take a break from the POA and memory loss discussions, is she at a point where she might forget that it's an issue? It will not be easy to do, but it might de-escalate the situation, and allow for a calm discussion of POA in a bit (just to ''get things in order for the future'' because, let's say, something happened to a friend of yours where a POA by their parent would have been helpful). A lot of hospital systems also have 'advance directives' available at their online portals, and when your MIL's ready for the POA discussion it might be a good time to discuss those as well.
I would definitely load a good ad blocker extension on her browser as well as a VPN.
I always recommend reading this which was helpful for me
http://www.dementiacarestrategies.com/12_pt_Understanding_the_Dementia_Experience.pdf
Her paranoia may be occurring because the information she receives every day is often new to her due to the memory loss, and if there are conversations where family members are referring back to prior discussions that she can't recall, it may seem like you are making plans behind her back.
Best of luck.
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Tell mom that her finances have been hacked and that bank asked you to pick up her new credit/debit card. Give her a reloadable gift card that you put a certain amount on each week/month. When it is gone, tell her she has to wait until the next "pay day." Try to get all her bills on auto pay and have the invoices/paperwork sent to you rather than her home. Talk to credit card company about her situation and to cancel all recent purchases.
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There’s nothing you can do about her purchases after they’ve been paid. It is her money to spend as she wishes. You may not agree with her choices but that’s your issue. You said she knows exactly what she’s doing but not making logical connections as to why she shouldn’t do it? Then convince her you are right and she is wrong. Good luck.
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disgustedtoo May 11, 2021
"You said she knows exactly what she’s doing but not making logical connections as to why she shouldn’t do it?"

OP said:
"She sometimes will spend hundreds of dollars at a time in the middle of the night on these supplements and have no memory of the purchases the next day."

This isn't just about choices, it's about competence. She can't recall if her parents are dead or alive. She checks her account and thinks fraud, canceling her card 4 times in a year. Clearly something isn't right here - this isn't just about OP thinking she shouldn't buy this stuff.

"Then convince her you are right and she is wrong. Good luck."

Yeah, good luck is right. When dealing with dementia, there is no convincing. You can try to reason with, argue with and convince them, but it will be an exercise in frustration.

Also, last time I checked, most things CAN be returned ("There’s nothing you can do about her purchases after they’ve been paid."), even online purchases can be returned. IF they are sketchy places, it might be difficult, but one can still try. Why give up without trying?
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We had luck calling the various companies and getting them to cancel the purchases and/or sending things back. My MIL bought a $900 vacuum from a door to door salesman. We were able cancel that.

She also sent money ($5) to any organization that asked. I gathered up all the solicitation notices every week and wrote “deceased” on them and sent it back. It helped a lot.
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This response is more for the people posting responses about getting control of someone’s computer, credit card, etc. Without guardianship, is this even legal? I know it’s done, but stepping in like this could backfire. I don’t have answers, and my family members did some things I thought were questionable, in order to prevent shopping and check-writing, and it worked out ok, but . . . So I’d sure get some legal advice as well as gathering knowledge from the experiences of others.
I’m 65 and thinking of what my own reaction would be if my kids came around and changed things on my computer and phone, and interfered with my banking.
This is really a difficult stage of dementia!
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disgustedtoo May 11, 2021
OF course no one wants someone else to "step in and take over", but when things are clearly out of whack and there are steps that can be taken to protect the other person, where's the harm? If the person, say YOU, is still competent, you can stand up for yourself and have it all "fixed."

A similar discussion often crops up when anyone suggests taking the car away from a person with dementia. YES, it is their car. YES, on some level it may be wrong or even considered illegal to take that car away, but WHAT OPTIONS ARE THERE? I would much rather deal with any legal questions about taking mom's car (sold it and put ALL the funds into HER account for HER use/care) than dealing with the injuries or deaths she causes, the police and the lawsuits brought by family of those she injured or killed. I wouldn't want to live with that result.

If we are doing these "deeds" out of care and love AND necessity, it shouldn't be an issue. Using yourself and your kids doing this at this stage of your life just isn't the same. The problem here is her inability to really understand the consequences of her actions. Given the details provided, clearly there is something going on, whether it's dementia or not and she is heading for financial ruin if she continues without intervention. There's a big difference between having your kids just come over and mess with your stuff vs this situation. This woman is only 65 - she could live a long time and if she continues doing what she is doing, she will have no way to provide for herself. Can't recall if her parents are dead or alive? Doesn't recognize purchases she made, so she cancels the card and gets another (4 in one year???) "...sometimes will spend hundreds of dollars at a time in the middle of the night on these supplements and have no memory of the purchases the next day."

These are all indications of an impending train wreck. Are we supposed to tell OP to just stand by and let it happen? WHO will pick up the pieces later?

If OP only said that she was buying all this crazy stuff and was aware of it, with NO indication of cognitive issues, fine, let it be. Try to talk to her, talk some sense into her, but if she was competent, c'est la vie. However OP has provided more than enough details for us to question it and suggest mitigation.
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Some on line shopping sites carry 'one click ordering' and all you do, literally, is click ONCE and your order goes through.

Stuff that looks like garbage at 11 am looks SOOO enticing at 3 am and your sleepy brain says "BUY THIS! NOW" and before you know it you have 5 pairs of antique brass duck bookends (I did this).

I had to turn that feature off on my Kindle and my phone. It's cut back on ridiculous unnecessary purchases almost completely---but you do need mom's phone and PW, probably to take this feature off the phone. I think AMAZON is about the worst with the one click ordering---

We're slowly weaning mom off the catalog thing. She buys about $500 a month in junk--mostly books she doesn't read and puzzles she'll do once then pile up in her room. Also things that are supposed to help her get organized, but always just end up taking up more room.

Funny, she can't make a phone call to ME but she can order endless amounts of junk from catalogs. Go figure!

Worse case would be to get a whole new phone and set it up.
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disgustedtoo May 11, 2021
"Stuff that looks like garbage at 11 am looks SOOO enticing at 3 am and your sleepy brain says "BUY THIS! NOW""

A picture paints a thousand words...

Cartoon from long ago, in another life was someone in an easy chair watching TV and the person in the ad was projected out of the screen and had the person by the throat, with the word BUY! in the dialogue bubble!

Maybe you can use those "5 pairs of antique brass duck bookends" for all those books she bought....
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The easiest way to start taking control would be to get that POA in place, but she's resisting. If she continues to refuse, guardianship would be necessary.

Is she living with one of you? It almost sounds like she's living alone - if so, that's probably not a great idea. At the least, someone should be staying with her until some resolution is found (to both spending and figuring out what's wrong.) Wait 9 months for additional testing? That seems a bit ridiculous.

Is anyone joint on her account? Perhaps you could speak with the bank and have them cancel the card and refuse to replace the debit card. What is/are her source(s) of income? If only SS, someone can apply to be Rep Payee. If approved, only the Rep can access her funds (needs a special account set up.) Then she'd have no access to her money, unless you provide a low limit preloaded card with no overdraft protection.

I did a quick lookup of parental controls and it doesn't appear that this would be sufficient to prevent online purchases. EVIL FB!!! The original intent was nice, keep in touch with family, share pix and info, etc, but it is really an evil thing, IMO. The more you do, the more crap they throw at you in the background (all those ads and whatnot that she's falling for.) Never had an account myself, and never will. At least when online with a PC you can install AD blockers, which might reduce all that - nothing is ever perfect, so some stuff might slip through, but the worst would be gone! I just ignore all the ads.

Out of curiosity, just did a check on 'smart phones for dementia' - it appears they DO make them with calling, messaging, camera and alarm. Perhaps you could replace her phone and when she asks where the other items went, make up some excuse - under repair, they are charging for everything now and the cost is too much, etc.

Two suggestions that might keep her off the internet (need both):

Change the WiFi password, but don't update it on her phone
When she's sleeping, in settings, turn the mobile access of the phone off

If neither of these can connect, phone calls and text messaging should still work, just no internet. Fib that her plan no longer covers online and it's too expensive!

Unrelated to spending: was she checked for UTI? Blood work and urine culture might be in order. Sometimes imbalances and UTIs can bring on odd behaviors.
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Hrbowman, this is a tough one. I found using the Internet for research helps keeps my mind active, and if Mom-in-law likes to do research it is in her best interest. So you need to find another way to keep her from buying things she thinks she needs.

The number one issue is the spending, so time to take away the credit/debit cards. It is ok to start using what are called "therapeutic fibs". Tell Mom-in-law that her cards were hacked and the bank asked her to stop using her cards until they figure out what happened. Or use whatever "fib" you think she would believe. Ask the bank not to send her anymore cards, hopefully they will comply.

Set the computer, tablet or smartphone to have "parent control" [if available] and hopefully that will keep Mom-in-law away from some of the websites. Not sure of the "parent control" blocks someone from purchasing anything on line. It's worth checking out.
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disgustedtoo May 7, 2021
I've often read and even suggested trying this "parent control', but just now all the search results seem to point to "in-app" purchases, not outright buying things online.
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Can u log her off her social media accts and hide her PW BOOK?
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You can try having a get-together and inviting friends and family who have PoAs and know that with topic will "come up" at the gathering. Maybe she will be less paranoid if she sees that "everyone" does it because it is a wise thing to do to protect yourself. I would download the PoA documents from Legalzoom.com or Rocketlawyer.com (specific for her state and 1 copy for each participant). When she seems amenable you will already have the paperwork handy and will just need to finish signing it in whatever legal requirement is outlined by her state (mine requires 2 non-family witnesses and papers to be signed in front of a notary). Then the participants (assigner and the PoAs) each get an original signed and notarized copy to keep.

My MIL only signed hers when she was in the rehab facility and during a care meeting the admin brought up the topic and we had the paperwork there for her to fill out and completed the process.

FYI you will need to work on the PoA thing soon before her cognition further erodes, at which point she shouldn't legally sign one if she can't understand what she's doing. Remembering it is not that big an issue, it's mostly if she can understand what she is signing. If she refuses to create a PoA then the family will need to pursue guardianship, and that is rigorous, expensive and emotionally draining. Last resort is for the county to make her a ward and have guardianship, which means family will have no control or insight into any of her affairs until she passes, even deciding what facility she goes to. May you gain peace in your hearts on this journey.
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