Finding out a loved one was diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s can knock you off your feet. A million worries and concerns may swim through your mind as you wrap your head around the long road ahead of watching a family member go through the inevitable decline of cognitive functions.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia. As a caregiver of someone facing this disease, you are not alone. But, what you may not be thinking about right now are the longer-term ramifications of being a caregiver. People caring for Alzheimer’s patients spend an extraordinary amount of time and money out of their own pockets to help someone living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. It is estimated that over $232 billion of unpaid care was given by caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2017.
While you are learning what you need to do for your loved one, be sure to consider what you need to do for yourself to make this process smoother and financially feasible.
What to do after a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Dementia
Trying to figure out what to do first can be paralyzing, but depending on what stage the diagnosis is received, you may have some time to get prepared and secure caregiving and financial responsibilities. Take some time to educate yourself about the disease and what to expect. Alzheimer’s progresses in stages: mild, moderate, and severe.
Stage One : Mild Decline – This is when symptoms start to appear. The person may start to misplace things, struggle to remember names, words, dates, and places and have trouble managing personal finances. This is the time to see a doctor to determine if there is a diagnosis and start a conversation on preferences for handling legalities such as power of attorney, financial, and caregiving management.
Stage Two: Moderate Decline – This is when your loved one will likely start needing help as they begin to remember things differently than reality. They can start wandering and may need help getting dressed. They may become frustrated and socially withdrawn. This is when caregivers need to start taking over finances and personal care needs. At this point, financial strategies should be in place because the person’s legal capacity could be in question. Caregivers also need to remember to take care of themselves during this stage.
Stage Three: Severe Decline – This is when memory worsens and your loved one may not be able to remember recent events or conversations. Personality changes and mood swings may take place. The person may become bed bound and have trouble sitting up. At this point, professional support may be needed. A financial professional could take over the majority of financial concerns at this point to allow family members to be there for their loved one.
You can find a number of caregiving resources available on the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Care for the Caregiver
While it’s hard to think about yourself when a loved one is suffering, caregivers need to remember to take care of their own needs as well. Just as they recommend on a flight to put your oxygen mask on first before you help someone else—you can’t provide care if you yourself start to suffer in your mental and physical health or personal needs. And, that includes the health of your own finances. Caregivers often report a range of emotions that can sneak up on them from sadness to guilt. Watch for warning signs you may be falling victim to caregiver stress. They can include:
- Denial about the situation and diagnosis.
- Anger and frustration at the person with Alzheimer’s.
- Social withdrawal from friends and outside activities.
- Anxiety about the future and being able to provide adequate care.
- Depression and giving up hope.
- Sleeplessness and obsessive worry.
- Irritability and moodiness.
- Lack of concentration.
- Physical health issues.
Remember to find ways to manage stress and deal with these emotions, which may be new to you. There are a number of community resources, support groups, and hotlines that can help. Be sure to keep up with physical checkups. Eat healthy, nutritious food to sustain yourself and don’t slack off from exercise. A good workout is a great stress reliever. Exercise releases endorphins, keeps you physically strong, and can get you out of the house for a much-needed break.
Financial Strategies for Those Living with Dementia
While a caregiver may be able to take over day-to-day needs around the house such as cleaning, errand-running, and cooking, another area that needs attention is taking over finances. This can be a daunting task for someone who is inexperienced with money management, especially if they don’t have access to their loved one’s financial information, know where bank accounts are or what bills need to be paid.
If you’re lucky enough to have some time on your side while your loved one still has their mental capacity, you can create a strategy to take over their financial life, which can include bills, any property they own, household items, investments, income sources, insurances policies, etc.
Download our guide “Protecting Wealth for an Aging America: A Caregivers Field Guide to Financial Strategies for Those Living with Dementia,” for a handy list of five financial areas to focus on getting in order. Be sure to consider your own financial needs, be aware of spending money out of your own pocket and taking time off work for caretaking as those may start to put a dent in your own financial picture. But don’t worry. You don’t have to — and you shouldn’t — take all this on by yourself. There are professionals you can contact to create a team. They include: An elder law attorney who is an expert in subjects such as Medicaid, Medicare, guardianship, retirement benefits, long term care, financing, and creating powers of attorney. A financial professional who can help you set up a management system to pay bills, navigate insurance policies, track expenses, and stay within budget constraints to help ensure money is there for you to care for your loved one, and yourself.
Things to Consider:
- Following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, educate yourself on the stages and what to expect.
- Contact professionals to help strategize a financial plan, legal matters, help around the house, and personal care for your loved one.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Maintain healthy lifestyle habits, seek support for the range of emotions you may start to experience, and keep an eye on your own finances.
Neither Transamerica nor its agents or representatives may provide medical, tax, investment or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors and financial professional regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.