Mom had been experiencing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) for about six months at this point, and I was only starting to come out of my denial that something was horribly wrong. Mom was 75 years old, active, looked the picture of health, and could fool anyone who didn’t know her into thinking she was just fine.
One Saturday afternoon, my husband Bob and I went up to Mom’s house to help her grocery shop and go through bills and paperwork. It was a relief to me that she wanted to sit with Bob and talk for a while, so I could go back to the den and go through her checkbook without looking too obvious.
I couldn’t believe what I saw. A notation for $2,000 paid to a gardener and it was a name I didn’t recognize. “HEY BOB!! Can you come here a minute??”
Reality was staring both of us in the face. Mom wasn’t safe any longer handling money. I should have realized that things were getting way out of control after she bought a puppy.
We gently presented Mom with the checkbook notation and she looked at it, admitted it was her handwriting, and said in a sad tone of voice that she had no recollection at all of writing that check. We asked her what work the gardener had done for $2,000 and she had no idea.
I called the bank and they retrieved the records. The check had been cashed the same day it was written. The guy took the money and ran. Mom agreed that it was time for a lot more help with the finances.
Alzheimer’s disease is so gradual that you have to keep piecing the clues together, and the person who has it often has no idea that there is anything wrong. That means that telling them they cannot be in charge of their own money sounds really wrong. It makes no sense to them. You don’t want such a thing to make sense.
Mom and I visited the bank and got my name on her savings and checking accounts. I quietly took her credit cards away. With me on her accounts, I could pay her bills online or with checks, and keep a close watch. I told her that I could take over the task of paying her bills and she could have more free time with her new puppy. That seemed to work, at least for a while.
Suggestion: Many issues concerning Alzheimer’s disease are sensitive, complicated and have no pat answers or solutions. Money falls into that category. It takes time to figure out what needs to be done. The person who is now dealing with memory issues and brain failure has to maintain a sense of control and dignity. I put small amounts of cash in Mom’s wallet so she didn’t feel completely powerless, but at this point, giving her access to blank checks or credit cards was out of the question.