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  • Ann Hollander

Should you take over Mom's checkbook?


Money matters are often intensely private. And no one wants to infringe on a family member's independence. Yet it is through (sometimes expensive) financial mishaps that you may learn of changes in your parent's memory and thinking.


Signs of a problem

Diseases that affect memory also tend to impair arithmetic skills and reasoning. That's why money trouble can suggest the onset of dementia. Be alert for the following changes:

  • Difficulty counting change or balancing a checkbook

  • Frequent late payment of bills

  • Confusion about banking transactions

  • Unusual or repetitive purchases

  • Accusations that others are stealing from them

  • Investing in sweepstakes or other "get rich quick" schemes

Take action If you notice a problem, ask the doctor to begin screening for dementia. But don't wait to see if the symptoms progress before taking action.

Offer to help in a way that saves face. For example, "Gosh, it looks like the utility bill is overdue. You've got so many other things to do. You deserve to take a break. There are some easy ways to take some of these chores off your plate."


If your relative is agreeable to it, a number of safeguards are available. For example:

  • Set up auto deposit of Social Security and other retirement income

  • Arrange for overdraft protection at the bank

  • Initiate auto payment of bills and/or third-party notification if a bill is not paid

  • Hire a licensed and insured bill payer

  • Consider a joint bank account (with online access for you)

If your relative refuses help or is fiercely secretive, you may want to

  • consult with his or her doctor. A doctor's tests or stated clinical opinion may persuade your family member to accept assistance.

  • consult with a lawyer. If your relative is dangerously undermining his or her financial well-being, guardianship may be necessary.

Worried about financial mishaps?

We at Options for Aging often observe that money matters are the first inkling that there may be a serious memory problem. As the North Shore and Chicago experts in family caregiving, we know how sensitive these issues can be. Give us a call at 847-868-1445. Let's start the conversation.

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