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Money problems may signal dementia

By Laura Dixon ·
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Posted: 4 pm ET

Money problems may signal dementia

©Darren Baker/

One of the earliest signs of dementia is confusion over financial matters. As the disease progresses, the dementia sufferer may make repeated financial mistakes as well as face increasing challenges when it comes to his or her finances.

If you suspect that an aging parent may be suffering from dementia, it's important to know some common warning signs related to how they're handling their money.

Problems with counting change

When a person can't reliably do basic equations in his or her head -- such as counting change, it can be a warning sign of dementia. Evidence of this might include paying too much or too little (with cash), or even opening his or her wallet and asking the cashier to take what is needed. You may notice that your loved one mixes up dimes and quarters, or fives and twenties. Ideally, he or she should use a debit card for purchases, particularly one that doesn't have a large balance.

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Neglecting to pay bills

When there's a pattern of underpaid bills, it's a definite red flag. But overpaying bills, such as paying them twice, is also a potential sign of dementia. There may be a stack of unpaid or unopened bills, or you may notice that your loved one even throws bills away.

If you can, monitor his or her mail and bank account and check the trash for unopened bills. Also, talk to them about converting as many bills as possible to an automatic payment system.

Trouble handling checks

Another warning sign that someone may have dementia is in the mishandling of bank checks. This can mean writing the date or amount on the wrong lines, or forgetting to sign the check on numerous occasions. An incorrectly balanced checkbook is another sign of trouble.

You also may notice that your loved one gets frustrated and accuses the bank of making errors. One way to remedy this is by having a second person become a co-signer on the checking account. That would allow someone else to review the bank statement every month.

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Falling for scams

Most healthy adults are able to recognize a letter that involves a financial scam of some kind. But studies have shown that people with even mild cognitive impairment can be fooled by such letters, and think that they're legitimate requests for money.

Talk to your loved one about common scams targeting the elderly. If you're still concerned, keep an eye on his or her bank account, looking for large purchases or donations that seem suspicious.

ATM confusion

There are a couple of common scenarios with ATMs. First, your loved one may have trouble operating an ATM machine, whether it's inserting the wrong card, forgetting a password or being unable to follow the prompts properly.

Also, he or she may be making frequent withdrawals from his or her ATM without remembering having done so. Watch for frequent withdrawals and, if needed, consider transferring money out of the account so that it has a smaller balance.

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1 Comment
Patricia Pope
October 22, 2016 at 4:21 pm

That's where it started with my mother. She would ask me to go over her checkbook without admitting she was having a problem figuring. She also didn't write things on every line. She'd skip a line or two and it was really hard to track what she was doing. Eventually, I took it over completely, but not without a lot of resistance on her part. She also would have to write out check for her because the arthritis in her hands had gotten bad, but I also suspect that just remembering and thinking through these processes was becoming more difficult for her, even though she wouldn't admit it. I would encourage people that if you suspect dementia in your aging relative, try offering help in a non-threatening way. Oftentimes, in the early stages while the person still has most of their faculties, it's hard for them to admit that they may have a problem and no one really likes to think about their mortality and potential decline. So, handle it with kid gloves until/unless you're forced to step in and just take the reins for their own good. In time, any hurt they feel, they'll get over as they're relieved to have someone else taking a burden off of them. And if you can, find other ways that make them feel empowered and not like they're a burden (something my mother struggled with).

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