I was talking to a family carer yesterday – a nephew taking care (from a distance) of his aunt. He was explaining that his aunt’s new debit card had been issued in a different colour and with a new design. As a result, she didn’t recognise it as hers. Up until this point, the aunt had been using her debit card as a contactless way to pay for groceries and toiletries and other supplies, managing her shopping fairly effectively in her local supermarket and other stores in the town in which she lives and is known. The simple changes in design and colour of her card has curtailed an aspect of her independence and autonomy.
Money is a sensitive issue, no one likes to feel that they are not in charge of the decision-making that goes with investing and spending money.
Money is complex on many levels. Families have major disagreements about money. It is often the first aspect of ‘putting your affairs in order’ that is tackled. Making a will, setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney for property and financial affairs, insurances, pensions, savings. These are all matters that are taken very seriously, in life and in sickness.
It is common for people with dementia to over-spend on items that they do not need. Difficulties with memory, decision-making and judgement contribute to this tendency, which can be manifested in different ways.
I remember talking to a carer about her husband’s propensity to buy digital cameras. “I’ve had to tell the owner of [local camera shop] not to sell John any more digital cameras. He bought four last week. We cannot afford for him to carry on like this, and he definitely doesn’t need any more!” I’ve heard similar tales from carers, of people buying large quantities of food, drink, ice-cream, chocolate, items of clothing, shoes, jewellery, soap, toilet rolls, shampoo, knitting wool, magazines, umbrellas, books.
One carer told me how her husband had made a substantial donation (£20k) to a charity, in response to some promotional material addressed to him, received through the post.
Money handling seems to become difficult for people early on in their journey. Simon, who cares for his wife, Susan, who has young onset dementia (diagnosed at 56) reflects on how puzzled he was, in the early months (before Susan was diagnosed) as to why she didn’t ever seem to have any money, and yet wasn’t apparently spending any more than usual.
“Certainly, she had nothing to show for it, if she was…..”, said Simon.
What transpired was that, every time Susan was faced with a situation where she needed to hand over cash, she would pay using a note, because, in this way, she would avoid the embarrassment of not knowing how to count out the correct amount. It was a strategy she had adopted to ‘save face’ because she knew that she was struggling.
“I discovered more than £3,000 in loose change” commented Simon, “stashed away in handbags in her wardrobe. This was one of the trigger factors that prompted us to seek help and led (eventually) to her being referred for assessment by the memory service”.
It is a matter of public concern that people with dementia, along with older people generally (but perhaps, more so) are vulnerable to abuse. Speculative tradesmen who cold-call offering to clear gardens, cut trees, repair guttering, replace boilers, may be scammers, who will easily spot an opportunity to exploit an older person with dementia.
These are challenging situations which many families have faced.
Here are some of the warning signs that a person’s ability to manage money might be compromised:
- Difficulty determining change or paying for a purchase
- Overdrawing on a bank account that was previously in good order
- Forgetting to pay regular bills
- Forgetting where they put their cash
- Unusual charges on a credit card bill, or unusual merchandise in the home
- Overdue bills that have amassed and not been paid
If you discover that your relative is having difficulty with managing their money, some possible safeguards you might consider putting in place include:
- Add a co-signatory to bank accounts
- Arrange for energy accounts and council tax to be paid by direct debit. This will ensure bills are paid on time.
- Provide a small amount of money they can carry in their wallet or purse.
Please get in touch if you have experienced problems of this kind, as a carer, or if you have some top tips as a person living with dementia for making money handling easier. We are keen to hear your experiences and learn about the strategies that you have found to be successful.