Navigating the Early Stages of Dementia


I wanted to get my mom a red purse thinking it would be easier to find. 

I feel that the early phases of dementia bring some of the hardest things to navigate. Things get lost, misplaced, or hidden really well, and it can be incredibly frustrating as well as humiliating to the person who is missing their phone, keys, purse, or wallet.

With no short-term memory, it’s hard to rely on what the person says about the last place they had the item. It’s also human nature to get a little defensive when someone is grilling you about where you left your wallet. It’s best to take a breath and tread lightly. The person that lost the item and can’t find it is already in distress, and I know from experience, looking for it over hours can be maddening.

Some ideas to help:

  1. Get the Tile (or TrackR or other GPS device) you can store in the wallet, purse, put on the keychain or attach to a phone.  You can put an app on your smart phone to find it.
  2. Make sure you have color copies of their identification so you have account or record numbers should you need an ID replacement.
    • Cancel the credit cards and checking account. A growing number of seniors are having fake checks drawn on their checking account after a purse or wallet has gone missing (even to show up later, they already have your routing and account number).
      • Only carry a check register with a little money in the account.
      • Do not use Debit Cards that immediately draw money from your checking account but use a prepaid credit card, or set up an account with a low credit line to minimize exposure.
    • In most states, you can log in to their DMV account and reorder a replacement drivers license.
    • Keep other forms of valid photo identification active. For instance, should you lose your driver’s license, having a valid Passport can act as a backup form of photo identification.
    • Contact the issuing agency. For those of you with a military ID, you may find the local base can help you navigate the loss of the ID.
  3. Get a safe with a digital keypad for safe keeping. For a family friend who has children that visit, I mentioned they might want to consider storing the important IDs in the safe and the siblings can easily get into it if they share the safe passcode should they need to help mom replace a lost ID again. They did have one with a key, but mom couldn’t find they key.

I don’t really understand the reason behind the behavior to hide things, but I know that I’ve seen it in too many clients.

What have you done that has been successful?

If you haven’t already, I hope you take the time to get the important documents, account details, and assets organized so you can minimize any further loss or misplacement. You can download a free copy covering what to save and what you should shred. The hiding habit usually includes a hoarding habit. Magazines and mail start to pile up … so I hope this will help you sort through the piles you might be also facing. Revisited. 

Here are a few of the stories from my journey:

Where is my Gold Necklace?

Where are you?

Where are my car keys?



Decisional Capacity and Short Term Memory Loss

simple choiceI’m working with two older adults who have seemingly lost their short term memory and are unable to manage their calendars. They haven’t been diagnosed with anything more than mild cognitive impairment but since their kids aren’t local, I have been hired to help pay bills and manage the cash flow. What I keenly recognize is that they have the ability to make reasonable choices that align with former saving and spending philosophies, but they have just lost the ability to do simple tasks like manage or recall who they have paid and balance the checkbook.

As an adult child, knowing my parents could not manage simple tasks had me and my siblings petrified that they would become victims of fraud and scams. We intervened at different times on their behalf to turn back on the water, cancel a second predatory contract for some home repairs, and even close down extra accounts they just weren’t using any longer. However, now that I’m stepping in as a Daily Money Manager to help older adults manage their bill payments, cash flow, and general finances, I also recognize how valuable keeping them involved in the process is to their self-esteem.

While it’s much faster to just take something away and do it yourself, going through the mail, prioritizing and making bill payments together, allows the individual to retain the sense of independence that is lost when the checkbook gets “taken away.” By the time my mom turned over the checkbook to me, paying bills just caused her panic since she had lost her ability to understand the value of money and didn’t recognize that they could afford for the escalating costs of her care.

I hope if you are in the early stages of cognitive issues with a loved one that you can recognize that being able to make a decision and be involved is vital to the sense of meaning and purpose to the person you are helping. Keep it simple, and keep them involved as long as you can. Appreciated. 


Caregiving or Enabling?

pushI’m intrigued to listen and learn from those of you who have a healthy parent and are helping them care for loved one. Several of you face many of the same frustrations my siblings and I faced:

  1. Refusal to make changes to status quo living.
  2. Dismissal of concerns regarding current situation.

We want to help, but get lured into thinking if we comply with the things wanted, we build trust to help them make the real changes they should be making.

In my experience, helping someone maintain a poor living decision doesn’t create a pool of good will, it just lengthens the time before the critical incident happens so you can make the needed change for better health and safety.

I vividly recall my mom calling me one evening to come over and help with dad, “it’s urgent!” I was so hungry to hear my parents ask for help, I would jump the moment they requested assistance. However, this was the third alarm this week and I happened to be on my way to take the kids for their flu shots. I had to decide if I was going to serve my parents over my kids. The fact that I kept responding to my parents alarms was wearing on my marriage. I needed to realign my priorities, and in effect, I was spending a lot of time keeping their status quo afloat.

After this incident, I decided to step back and let them fail.The next time my mom called with an emergency, I told my mom to call 911. This event helped illustrate the depth of the problems my parents had functioning and it turned into a 3-day stay at the hospital for my dad. Until this incident, most of my concerns about my parents were dismissed by my siblings. To be fair, my parent’s were good at putting on a good show when my siblings came to visit. I realized that my constant involvement was allowing my parents to continue with their status quo lifestyle.

Once I had made the decision to give up, I mentally detached myself just as my siblings were starting to engage. I was so weary at the this point, I told my siblings they needed to deal with it. The resulting conversations with my siblings resulted in me re-engaging, but now, my siblings were part of the support system for me. We set up regular phone calls, scheduled interventions, and moved toward solutions to keep our parents cared for and safe.

What I learned was that there is a fine line between enabling and being an involved adult family caregiver. Is now a good time to figure out where you might be? Asked.



How to Fight Elder Fraud


Every year, at least $36 Billion is reportedly taken from older Americans, according to the National Council on Aging. The largest segment is “Exploitation” — when businesses, individuals, or charities use pressure tactics or misleading language to lead seniors into financial mistakes. My parents were prayed upon, and the source of the fraud was surprising.

When my parents still lived in their home, they signed two agreements for the same work — one was for a few hundred, and the second was for $5,200. Thankfully, my mom sensed something was wrong and called my sister. I lived near mom and dad so could stop by and found the two contracts for the same work — one that was horrifically over-priced. We were able to cancel the outrageous contract, but I should have also called the police, Adult Protective Services, and the Better Business Bureau. We were so stunned at the time that 1) they could victims of horrible people; 2) thankful we caught it in time that I never circled back to work with the systems in place that could help protect others from this same crime.

The Washington Post carried a story today that detailed the depth of the crimes against three local seniors. They were robbed of more than $100,000 by what our local police call “woodchucks”.  They start by offering to trim trees, and if they do return after you have given them a deposit, they usually find a host of other issues to repair. Most of the work is either not needed (roof tile or chimney repair that you can’t see), is done poorly, or never completed.

Holding that checkbook is for many, the last item in helping them feel control over their world. It was at least another year before my mom would let me help her with the checkbook and bill payments. When I started to notice that my parents were writing weekly checks to a variety of charities I had never heard of, my antennae went up. If you read the letters, they are written to make the recipient believe they have already promised a donation.It can be hard to get a handle on this since it feels good to give. However, sometimes it can get out of control.

As a daily money manager, I helped one client who was giving over $2,000 a month to a host of charities she doesn’t even believe in because of the letters and calls coming into her home. He son asked her to keep the donations to under $30, which she did. However, she was writing checks and giving her credit card out nearly 100 times every month.

When we started working on bill pay together, I was able to show her how much money she was giving away and it surprised her. When we started to go through the mail and discussed the charities, she realized she didn’t know what they did or even believe in the mission. After taking these steps, it was easy for her to realize that she needed to reconsider her giving and we came up with a good solution for her.

If you are worried about this with your loved one, start slow. Work in tandem to get a handle on the charitable giving — tax season is a great time to do this. Create a list of the key charities of interest and suggest that you review all of the others at the end of the year.

Money is always a difficult topic in families. If you are approaching your role as care partner, you may find it easier to tackle these issues if you do them together. If you don’t live near your loved one, and you think they need some help, I suggest you consider finding a local daily money manager to help you navigate the road ahead. Recommended. 


Is it Time to Stop Driving?

CAR KEYSI shared the story of how my family dealt with driving. It was difficult and horrible because my parents didn’t know they had lost their licenses and kept driving. Our biggest fear was that they would have an accident and without a valid license … had no auto insurance. If they were in an accident, I could see them being sued for everything they owned. If you want to revisit that series of post, you can find it here.

What has been interesting to witness is the variety of my clients who have freely (but not happily) given up their car keys. There were little issues, like getting lost or having a minor fender-bender, that usually preceded the choice.

For my clients that have given up keys, the ease at which we have been able to get them to the events they want to attend made all the difference in the world. We could shown them that not driving was not going to slow them down.

Friends have mostly filled in to help get them to church, to their member groups, and even to their volunteer obligations. It is actually making their interactions with others richer. In my community, we have a local non-profit that sets up volunteer rides. You may have a similar group in your community. In the McLean area, we have a Shepherd’s Center of McLean/Arlington/Falls Church. In Reston, they have RC Rides through the Reston Community Center, and several of the villages in our area provide rides to their members. To see if you have one in your area, you may want to reach out to the Agency for Aging in your county.

For one client , we incorporated personal care assistants (through an agency that we pay) that can offer on-demand rides when needed. For a few dollars more than a cab ride, he has someone who can comes once a week to help get the grocery list together, get the shopping done and put-away. The other client purchased discounted taxi vouchers so she can get to the grocery store.

I am happy that we can make the loss of the keys not limit my clients ability to continue doing the things that they love. When you face this issue, are there ways to make the loss of the keys not feel like a loss of freedom, but maybe even a move to promote socialization with friends they enjoy and community activities they love? Recommended.






Five Reasons To Get Financial Support

checkbookI realized how much control of the checkbook meant to my mom. While I was terrified she was going to be taken advantage of … she was totally unconcerned over the idea that she might lose her wallet. The reality was that she didn’t remember ever misplacing her wallet or purse.

What I came to learn was that the biggest threat to her financial security was not what most expect. It was the number of non-profits that wanted to get a few dollars to fund their mission. It felt good to my mother to be able to send off $25 to a charity.

A recent family asked me to step in and help their mom. We were all shocked to find that she was giving away over $2,000 every month in $25 and $30 increments. While mom was resistant to help, she was surprised to learn how much she was giving away every month and had not realized how quickly those small amounts accumulated. She now holds the bills and we work together once a week to pay bills and balance the checkbook.

If you have concerns over these issues, bring in a daily money manager can help. Not only can having a third-party mitigate any sibling/family concerns, but it also offers five other benefits:

  1. You can be the daughter/son. I realized that I was spending hours every week dealing with bills, medical details, and following up on a host of random items that I would have rather not been doing. I would have preferred to be able to just hang out with mom.
  2. You can empower your loved ones longer. Taking out the personal family history can help in finding simple solutions to manageing the money. You can just suggest they try it for a month and see if it helps to have a second set of eyes if you are noticing bills going un-paid or being over-paid. As tax season approaches, it might be a good time to try out some extra help.
  3. You have info you need if a community is considered. If you consider moving a loved one into a life care or retirement community, they will require a summary of personal assets. How quickly would you be able to pull that information together, and might it make mom or dad anxious if you were going through their papers?
  4. Real numbers to compare costs. Most people assume a retirement or assisted living community is instantly more expensive. In several cases, I have found it was less costly than keeping a loved in their home and bringing all of the care and services to them. Find out how and when you might consider a community option.
  5. Fraud and scam avoidance. One of the things a daily money manager will do is reconcile the checking account and monitor the credit card for extraneous charges. For one client, we found that the bank had deducted $1,000 more than the actual checks value. While the adult child was monitoring the account from across the country, they couldn’t know the actual amount of the invoice to know that $1,000 too much was debited from dad’s account.

After serving in this role for mom and dad for five years, I realized that I would exchange some of the money I inherited at mom’s death for free time and mother-daughter time had I known what I now know. Recognized. 

If you want to find a daily money manager in your area, check out American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM).




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My Journey As a Caregiver … in 3 Parts

KaywParents2013I was asked to share my caregiving journey on Healthline. It turned into a three-part series, and might have some information that you find beneficial.

1) The Fight to Become My Parents’ Caregiver

2) What It Means to Be a Caregiver

3) The Painful Choices End-of-Life Brings for the Caregiver

I’m happy to be on the other side of the journey, and can now treasure all the skills I learned, and the moments I shared with mom and dad. Traveled.

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