Relinquishing control of finances can be a sensitive topic for a loved one with dementia. Dementia tries to rob us of our dignity and limits our independence, so people suffering from it may be resistant to ceding financial control as a point of pride. Unfortunately, dementia can weaken a person’s ability to make good decisions which can expose them to risky investments, reckless purchases, and fraud. The question then is how to respect the self-esteem of your loved one, even while taking steps to protect for the future the money he or she has earned.
Here are some tips for talking in a way that’s effective and sensitive:
Lay the groundwork early: Start talking early, ideally even before anyone is diagnosed with dementia. Suggest the future possibility of taking care of the dementia patient’s finances in larger discussions about an estate plan. This will reduce some of the shock and pain for the patient. And remember that a dementia patient needs to feel loved and cared-for, not put-upon or confronted.
Affirm hard work and success: Money is a source of pride for many of us. It acts as a marker of accomplishment, a sign of being a good provider, and a validation of our efforts. Understand why and how the patient came to get his or her money. Then, most importantly, understand what purpose it fulfills in the patient’s life. Affirm this purpose and frame the discussion around these financial goals.
Don’t fight over nickels and dimes: If possible, try to carve out a little space in the budget that can stay under the patient’s control. The ability to make purchases can bring joy to a patient and give a greater sense of self-esteem. It can also distract the patient from participating in more difficult financial decisions.
Ask for help: There are a number of financial professionals who specialize in end-of-life issues. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers gives information as well as a directory of advisers. Also try out the Society of Certified Senior Advisors for advice.