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When a parent has Alzheimer’s

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Posted: 2 pm ET

Taking over when a parent or other loved one succumbs to Alzheimer's is a financial challenge, even for a certified public accountant who is accustomed to managing other people's money, says William Cummings, president of Cummings Financial Organization in Tampa.

Two years ago, Cummings' father had a stroke and subsequently suffered from pneumonia. During his recovery, it became clear that he was unable to manage his own retirement planning to the point where the power company turned off service because he had failed to pay the bills. Cummings and his three siblings stepped in to manage the situation. "When your loved one has Alzheimer's, everybody has it," Cummings says.

The two sisters and two brothers divvied up the responsibilities, with Cummings, the CPA, taking over the financial duties, learning everything he could about what it takes to manage the financial affairs of an incompetent older person.

Cummings divides the caregiving challenge into four categories and recommends getting specialized advice about each.

Find housing and caregivers. The Cummings family found it initially hard to come to grips with the extent of their father's decline. They put him in a retirement home that wasn't equipped to cope with the amount of care he needed. As a result, a few months later they had to move him again. Cummings recommends that families pay for a thorough health evaluation before getting further assistance with choosing a facility to minimize the upheaval and the cost.

Pay the bills. The job entails unearthing every source of income, savings and potential benefits for which a patient might qualify. Cummings estimates the cost of Alzheimer's care in his part of the country to average $7,000 a month. "Assets dwindle quickly" at that price, he says. Fortunately, his father was a veteran and Cummings was able to qualify him to receive Aid and Attendance, a long-term care benefit available to some veterans. The qualifying process took nine months, but when the money came, it was retroactive, which helped. Cummings believes that his father, whose overall physical health is good, could live as long as another decade, so he has created elaborate financial projections to figure out how much money will be required and where it will come from. He recommends that a caregiver who isn't a financial expert get professional help to assess resources and figure out how to best manage them.

Manage the legal aspects. A knowledgeable elder-care attorney can make a huge difference in how long the money lasts, particularly when it comes to taxes, Cummings says. "Good tax-planning can make a six-figure difference." Picking an attorney with a different specialty just because he's cheaper is no bargain, he warns.

Cope with the emotional aspects. Dealing with an ailing parent is stressful, Cummings says. He participates in an informal group that gets together for lunch and commiseration, but many people need more formal counseling. "It is essential that you remember to take the time to maintain your own health and well-being. You cannot help others if you do not help yourself."

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February 23, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Lourdes - If you aren't able to navigate the VA website, call your US Senator or Representative. They should have someone on staff who can give you guidance.

February 23, 2014 at 5:54 pm

My mother has dementia and lives with me in my home. I too have exhausted most of my savings but also feel fortunate that I am able to be with her on a daily basis. My parents were married for 60 years and towards the end my dad's life he also suffered from Alzheimer's. It's tough to see both parents go through such a debilitating disease. I do agree that it is very important to read as much as possible about the disease and the people who have suffered through it along with experiences and advice from other caregivers. We also have been fortunate to have a supportive family and friends.

Rew E Williams
February 23, 2014 at 5:39 pm

I also happen to be a retired vet. Fought or as we called it, played around in a few places. I don't think I have Alzheimer's, but if it ever happens, don't spend any money, they have their own family's to worry about. Just find a place, there are shovels in the garage.

kathy o
February 23, 2014 at 3:22 pm

The spouse of a veteran may also be eligible for financial aid for caregivers. The process is lengthy and I'm told everyone is denied first time - DONT give up - my mom was denied first time, but when she finally received it she was also eligible for 2yr retroactive payment. The Va money, combined with her Social security will ensure that she can continue to live with me for as long as possible (I work full time - she has a caregiver).

February 23, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Lourdes, you can go online at look into benefits, you will find phone numbers and a wealth of information.

lourdes guzman
February 23, 2014 at 11:49 am

Is the VA giving free services for a veteran?

lourdes guzman
February 23, 2014 at 11:47 am

My husband has dementia.I'm taking care of him and the home services will be over at the end of February or Ist week of March.He's a veteran also,but i dont know who to call to ask for help. Is there a telephone number/ numbers ,I could call ? pls respond. We need help.

TR Bailey
February 23, 2014 at 6:37 am

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's for close to twelve years. In the beginning my father took care of her, until he was unable to, due to his own health and the huge responsibility. In the beginning it was the hardest on mom, she knew she was losing her memory. Both my parents were able to stay in their own home. I set up a round the clock care service for them both. We spent almost all of their savings to keep them at home. Best money we ever spent, they both were taken care of with love and respect. Hospice was also a support for moms care.

February 23, 2014 at 1:29 am

My husband has alzheimer's and I agree with you about finances the one thing I tell people to make sure you get long term care insurence when you are young because you never know when you might need it,I was lucky that we had bought it way before we ever needed it, my husband is also a veteran and that as you say helps also seek help ,talk about the illness ,don't be ashamed to ask friends loved ones for help, the more we learn the more we can help others,read every thing you can about Alzheimers the more you learn the etter care giver you will.

February 22, 2014 at 11:44 pm

Alzheimer's article