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Watch out for potential decline in parents' money management ability

In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says adult children should be alert for this potential issue.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
The Forum

Dear Readers: Whether regarding scams, elder abuse or dementia, older adults’ money management has been a hot media topic lately. Since I hear from readers about this as well, I thought it may be helpful to provide some resources for adult children to consider.

While many people well into their 80s and beyond are capable of handling their own money, most make plans for a time when that could change. Financial management skills are likely to decline, though with significant variances between people. These factors alone don’t signal dementia since this is a part of normal aging. Extreme money management problems, however, may signify something more serious.

If you have trouble initiating these conversations, you might find it helpful to read my column published May 1 ("Some older parents are reluctant to share financial info with their children") .

Next, consider how well your parents have managed money in the past. Some could barely keep track of their checking accounts no matter their age. Others were whizzes. Most will fall in the middle. Understanding their financial management history can help you plan for when you might be needed as a backup manager.

Someone who was never good with money may need help even if their only decline is a small loss of capabilities due to normal aging. Conversely, if your parent or parents were excellent money managers, they may be all right for a time. However, if they are suddenly falling off a cliff in that area, not only do they need help with finances, but you probably should encourage them to get a medical checkup as well.


It’s important to understand that with some people, changes in money management may be one of the earliest warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias . This could happen at a relatively young age with early-onset Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and other types.

In "5 Things to Know about Aging & Financial Decline," geriatrician Leslie Kernisan tells people to watch for these clues in family members or themselves:

  • Taking longer to complete everyday financial tasks.
  • Reduced attention to details in financial documents.
  • Decline in everyday math skills.
  • Decreased understanding of financial concepts.
  • Difficulty identifying risks in a financial opportunity.

If you like her article, there's more about her in another column that I wrote when Dr. Kernisan’s book, “When Your Aging Parent Needs Help: A Geriatrician's Step-by-Step Guide to Memory Loss, Resistance, Safety Worries, & More,” was first released on Amazon and Barnes & Noble . In my opinion, this book is an essential tool for new caregivers, but seasoned caregivers may also want to take a look. A chapter on financial challenges is included. (I moderate a support group for Dr. Kernisan.)

Two additional resources you may want to consider:

Even if you aren't worried about your parents’ money management, you may want to tuck away these resources — just in case.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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