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Monday, November 4, 2013

Alzheimer's, Money, and the Checkbook


Why would any Alzheimer's caregiver think or believe that a person living with Alzheimer's disease is competent enough to handle their own finances, write checks, and make decisions on major purchases like a car?

By Bob DeMarco
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

Alzheimer's caregivers often experience problems with money, checkbooks, and scams being perpetrated on persons lviing with Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's, Money, and the Checkbook

I have to scratch my head on this one.

Why would any Alzheimer's caregiver think or believe that a person living in a state of dementia is competent enough to handle their own finances, write checks, and make decisions on major purchases like a car?

Even if they are today, sooner or later if you don't do something you are likely to get bitten in the butt if you allow this to continue.

Why would any Alzheimer's caregiver sit back and "vent" about the problem while the person with Alzheimer's continues to write checks, make bad decision with their money, and gets ripped off.

Folks, when there is a problem you have to get in front of it. Not stand by and watch. By getting in front I mean, define the problem, determine the solution, and take the appropriate action.

Some people might say, well there are laws you know.

Let me put it this way, if someone wants to try and put me in jail because I took my mother's checkbook away, or because I won't allow her to spend her money on something that is "idiotic" bring it on.

I care about my mother and if I am going to jail for caring and using good common sense they can put me away.

When you have a problem, think about it.

Try and figure out all the possible solutions. 

Pick the solution that you believe solves the problem in the best most efficient way.

Be an adult, don't be a child.

Here are two great articles about The Checkbook that appeared on the Alzheimer's Reading Room previously.

The first is by Pamela R. Kelley, and the second is by Max Wallack.

I think you will benefit if you take the time to read both articles.

Also, please consider sharing this information in support groups, and on the various message boards dedicated to caregivers around the world.
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Related Content
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The New Alzheimer's Checkbook, A Simple Substitute for the Real McCoy

This simple decision – to substitute checks from a dormant account for the real McCoys – eliminated a trigger for upsets....
By Pamela R. Kelley

The New Alzheimer's Checkbook, A Simple Substitute for the Real McCoy

My mother always kept the checkbook and ran the household accounts while she raised her family and through my parents’ retirement years. She continued to manage her money after my father died.

As Alzheimer’s claimed its terrible price, she continued to control her checkbook with my sister’s assistance.

My sister was added as a signatory to the account, given a financial power of attorney (POA) and took over the task of supervising the account.

Then, her anxiety over my mother’s financial vulnerability skyrocketed.

She noticed things like the increasing number of checks voided out because of errors Mom made in writing out the sum.

There were suspect purchases.

Checks were written out of sequence.

Mom studied and worried and perseverated over that checking account throughout the mild stage and into the moderate sage of her disease. She captured my sister in ceaseless conversations about her money. She spoke to me on the phone for hours about her frustration with my sister’s intrusion into her financial privacy.

Our family eventually arrived at a solution to the problems surrounding Mom’s money obsession.

Rather than staggering from one problem or battle to the next, a depleting process that occupied far too many months, the phony checkbook was born.

My sister took a box of checks from a closed account, checks bearing my mother’s name, address, and proper bank. Only the account number differed, and the sequence of checks. She substituted the dummy checks for the negotiable ones, and started a new register with my mother’s accurate current balance.

Immediately, this accomplished one important benefit. The checkbook wars between my sister and my mother ended.

Now, my sister could pay the bills, reconcile the account, and keep Mom’s financial house in order – all offsite and online at my sister’s house rather than at my mother’s kitchen table.

A huge charade ensued – all of my mother’s experience of managing the checking account remained the same: receiving the bills into her home, sitting down with my sister to write the checks and enter them into the register, recording her Social Security and other deposits.

The difference was that my sister was no longer striving for accuracy. She could relax into the charade and simply be with my mother through the process,

 validating Mom’s decisions and actions rather than “correcting” them.

The reduced conflict was beneficial to Mom, and the lessened stress was a boon to my sister. Perseverating over money and the checkbook was much less noticeable in our daily phone calls.

This simple decision – to substitute checks from a dormant account for the real McCoys – eliminated a trigger for upsets.

When my mother moved across the country to live with me, her faux checkbook came along. We continue the practice my sister established without deviation. 

There are fewer entries now; she’s not running a household any longer. Yet every month there are regular deposits recorded, and checks written.

 My mother accepts the fact that Alaska stores won’t take her “out-of-town checks” and doesn’t try to tender them. Instead, she uses cash or lets me pay. If it’s the latter, she writes me a reimbursement check from her phony account.

 It pleases her that she continues to control her own checking account.

The only problem we’ve had with this system occurred in the first month Mom lived with us. She’d written me a dummy check to reimburse me for an expense. I left the check on my working table, only to be discovered by my husband – a kind soul who works hard in a financial institution. He saved me the effort of having to deposit the check, taking it with him one day. I received the call from the bank later, informing me that this check wasn’t legal tender.

 I’d overlooked sharing the chronicle of the fake checking account with him!

My mother continues to benefit from her familiar role of controlling her own money, even though she doesn’t. She concedes that she needs my help with this. She magnanimously says,
“Honey, you can look at my book any time you want.”
She’s secure. Her accessible money is safe.


And there is an armistice in the checkbook war.
*Pamela R. Kelley is the full-time caregiver for her mother; and, a long time contributor to the Alzheimer's Reading Room. She lives, works and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.
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Alzheimer’s and The Checkbook

Then, one day, Great Grams’ son came to visit. Great Grams was very agitated. She didn’t recognize him. Throughout the day, she accused him of various horrific acts. That evening, when she was upstairs with her son, he said to her, as a joke, "So, can I have your checkbook"?
By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

My great grandmother, who died of Alzheimer’s, grew up very poor.

Every penny mattered to her. Every cent was budgeted. She married my great grandfather in her twenties. He was a brilliant man, but family misfortune had deprived him of an education. Together, they struggled financially.

My great grandfather worked on a pushcart, selling fruits and vegetables out of a little shop that was located in the basement of what is now historic Faneuil Hall.

Great Grams and Great Grandpa had two children, and they lived in a Boston Housing Project. Great Grams always impressed on her children that the only way for them out of poverty was through education. She succeeded: her son got a Ph.D. and her daughter an M.A.

I believe that the focus on money that was necessary throughout Great Grams’ life is what showed itself to such an extreme extent when she entered the world of Dementia.

We first realized Great Grams had “Dementia” when she was about 90, although in retrospect, we realize she had had it for several years before that.

Great Grams spent HOURS each day studying her checkbook. She kept it with her all the time. 

Often, Great Grams would start writing and figuring in the checkbook. She often became frustrated by this if she kept it up a long time, but we thought it was good for her to try to be figuring herself.

She would figure and figure, but she could never “make it come out right”.

She would ask my grandmother, probably twenty times a day, to recheck it.

Sometimes, she would ask my grandmother to write things in it. Then, she would look at the checkbook and say that something was wrong because it wasn’t in her own handwriting.

Sometimes, she didn’t want to go to sleep at night because she had to fix her checkbook.

In the car, she would whip out her checkbook and study it. 

 She would wait for the mailman each day. If a checkbook statement or a bill came for her, she would obsess over it.

It didn’t matter if we helped her for hours to explain her checking account statement, the next day she would claim to have waited all day to have us explain it to her.

Fifty percent of her time was spent on her checking account, which usually had only two or three entries in a month.

Sometimes, it seemed that Great Grams wanted to embellish her checking account to make it more interesting. Whenever she was at the supermarket, which had a bank branch in it, she would insist that she needed to withdraw money from her account. She might withdraw $100. The next day, she insisted she needed to go to the bank because she had too much cash and she needed to put it in the bank.

One time, we all went on a trip to Washington, D.C. Grandma finally convinced Great Grams that she should leave her checkbook at home so it couldn’t get lost. 

We thought we were in for a real vacation, checkbook free!

Actually, on that trip, things worked pretty well in D.C., but on the way home Great Grams started looking through her pocketbook for her checkbook.

She didn’t believe us that she left it at home. (We could hardly believe that ourselves.)

 She insisted we had stolen it from her, and we were taking out her money. She never stopped talking about it for the entire 5 hours in the car. At home, when she was reunited with her beloved checkbook, she finally quieted down.

I know it is said that distraction is the best solution to when a person with Dementia obsesses about something. We always tried, but somehow Great Grams could never be distracted when she got some idea in her head. Maybe, this was the remnants of that same goal orientated personality that had gotten her through the many trials in her life.

We were discussing, at home, possible solutions to the checkbook obsession, which was clearly occupying too many hours of many people’s time.

One possibility we considered was having dual checkbooks, so that Great Grams’ checkbook wouldn’t have any entries in it, if we could convince her that she didn’t have any bills any more. That way, she would be happy that her social security would be entered, but no withdrawals would ever show up.

We did try something like that, for a while. Whenever Great Grams needed medications, other family members paid for it, rather than go through increased checkbook saga.

However, no matter how little ever happened in her checkbook, Great Grams was more attached to her checkbook than to her right arm.

Then, one day, Great Grams’ son came to visit. Great Grams was very agitated. She didn’t recognize him.

Throughout the day, she accused him of various horrific acts. That evening, when she was upstairs with her son, he said to her, as a joke,

“So, can I have your checkbook?”

And, you know what?

 She gave it to him! 

He handed it to us, and she never mentioned her checkbook again.

Such a strange illness!
*Max Wallack is a student at Boston University and a Research Intern in the Molecular Psychiatry and Aging Laboratory at the BU School of Medicine.  His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of  PUZZLES TO REMEMBER ;and, the author of Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? An Explanation of Alzheimer's Disease for Children.
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room