This blog shows how you can try to identify the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's, what you can do about it, and how and where you as a sufferer or family member can access professional support, and how to prepare financially and legally.
People talk about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as being the cruellest of diseases. This year alone, 225,000 people in the U.K. will develop dementia, with more than 600 people being diagnosed every day. Dementia as a debilitating condition is on the increase, and within five years, there could be more than 1 million people suffering from dementia in the U.K. alone.
The acute and physical as well as psychological decline linked with conditions typical with older age can indeed be harrowing for sufferers and their whole family unit.
There is something utterly wrenching about the gradual loss of memory and mental faculties of an individual who may have previously been fit and well. Often, this is the aspect hardest to accept.
Alzheimer's is essentially a process of ‘unlearning,’ and as it progresses, sufferers start to forget many of the skills, knowledge and abilities they may have taken for granted since childhood. These can encompass the simple and basic routines of daily life, the skills and tasks, which afford us independence. Even facts as fundamental as the names of their closest relatives, who they are and where they live can be either a challenge or a complete loss.
One of the pivotal tasks that many Alzheimer’s sufferers struggle with is the handling of their finances, and additionally, this is an area of great concern and stress for sufferer’s relatives. To begin with, it could be things such as forgetting a PIN number for their bank card or forgetting to pay bills on time. These can become challenges on their own and if left to escalate can cause financial problems for the sufferer. Bigger, more significant decisions such as purchases of assets or high-value items can make the handling of finances extremely precarious for sufferers.
In the latter stages, a person with Alzheimer's may lose their ability completely to work with numbers, and thus, the practical side of financial management and decision-making becomes extremely taxing.
These situations place a particular burden on close relatives, and immediate family members and the unknown aspect of how quickly a situation can worsen or escalate adds to this burden. Losing the ability to handle money is a step towards losing one’s independence, and this commands the assistance of others to take charge of personal affairs.
For relatives, identifying the signs your family member may have reached this stage is difficult to come to terms with but it is undoubtedly the key to getting one step ahead of an escalating situation. The fact that they may no longer be able to cope alone and may require intervention and support is a complex situation to navigate as a family or a sufferer, particularly if the individual is determined to maintain their independence.
A dementia diagnosis can be devastating for any person, along with their family. They may initially go through a stage of denial, of not wanting to accept the medical opinion, but the truth is, once conditions like Alzheimer’s set in, there is no turning back, and so it is imperative that plans are put into place as soon as is physically possible.
Someone could live for many years with reduced mental faculties, relying on the love and support of others. Though it is a fate few of us want to contemplate, but from a practical point of view, this type of support is very difficult to sustain, and so inevitably, preparations have to be made.
During the early stages of dementia (ideally well before), it is prudent for a sufferer to sign over a lasting power of attorney. This needs to be to someone they trust, ultimately to be in charge of their affairs and finances, when they reach the stage of not being able to.
Power of attorney, in essence, gives someone the legal right to make decisions on behalf of another person. This includes the right to handle aspects of personal finance, providing access to bank accounts, investments and assets. In addition, this enables the appointed person to take charge of decision-making in relation to spending and remittances.
Lasting powers of attorney can only be assigned to a person judged competent to do so; which is why the family should plan ahead. This means establishing a sensible and realistic conversation as a family about making the decision. If this is left to the later stages of dementia, regrettably, such a conversation might not be possible and can hinder the proper and prudent management of finances.
Assistance in The Early Stages of Alzheimer's
It can be difficult to identify if a person is displaying the first signs of difficulty with handling finances because of dementia. It tends to be less obvious, more complex tasks tend to first show themselves in the initial stages.
Simple tasks such as deciding to change insurance providers or energy suppliers to save money may be telling, hereby, it is often the spouse who spots this first. This may be more difficult if their partner has taken charge of their finances during the marriage.
Ultimately, if you suspect someone in your family is beginning to struggle, or you notice that spending on bills or statements has increased, but you are unsure why, it might be time to offer a helping hand. To someone with the early onset of dementia, going through the various steps, in a task such as needing to change energy supplier might feel like an overwhelming task and a mountain too steep to climb.
Alternative signs could be bills not being paid on time, or a relative forgetting the PIN for their card or even misplacing bankcards. Seeing them going out to buy something specific and then not returning with what they went out for can be a sign. Asking to borrow cash because they have been unable to withdraw it themselves, or showing signs or patterns of erratic spending can be another telltale sign.
It is important to respect a person’s independence and not to take control too quickly, as this is a delicate situation that requires empathy and sensitivity. It might only be certain activities that they are struggling with, and so practical steps can be taken to support them. If your relative is forgetting their PIN, for example, speak to their bank about switching to contactless.
Another approach you can try to support relatives is to try to see if you can switch bills over to direct debit to ease the burden on them. Supporting them indirectly in this way will help relatives to keep their sense of autonomy.
Taking On More Responsibility
As Alzheimer’s reaches the later stages, your relative will find it hard to cope with financial management and this is most certainly an area where you may need to step in. This may include triggering a power of attorney, the timing of which can be difficult.
Consider whether the well-being of your loved one would be improved if you stepped in. They could be getting into financial trouble owing to debt from unpaid bills; they could also be showing signs of frustration and distress at not being able to cope.
Either way, their quality of life is what matters most. Even if it is decided that you need to trigger a power of attorney, this new legal entitlement does not necessitate that you have to do everything for them, but it is certainly a good safety net if required.
Once you take on power of attorney for someone with dementia, you will find your involvement in their finances increases. A starting point is to start checking documentation, including bills and bank accounts. Make yourself aware of cash flow and finances coming in and outgoings due as well as any outstanding debts. This will help to build up a picture of the general state of your relative’s finances. If you do start to see conditions worsen, you know when to step in to take more control.
There are greater financial decisions relating to property ownership, investment portfolios, savings accounts, drawing from pension funds etc. that will have to be addressed, and some of the biggest decisions are around care funding. Therefore, these issues could be discussed as a family and in collaboration with the relative, and this could include discussing plans for the handling of their estate, once they pass.
For a person with dementia, it may no longer be possible to make these crucial decisions alone. This is a key reason why laws surrounding powers of attorney exist.
Anyone taking on the role of Attorney for a relative with dementia should seek the advice of an impartial financial planner.
You will have lots of questions to ask about your new role and responsibilities, such as what you need to do to get your relative’s finances in the best order possible, how to manage and protect their estate, along with responsibility regarding living expenses and care costs.
In difficult times, thinking about money and finances can just seem too overwhelming for many of us, and that is what an unbiased financial planner is there for - to listen and to help use their expertise to achieve the best outcomes for your relative and for yourself.
Get in touch today to arrange a no-obligation conversation and start to plan the forward path for your family.