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How to Help Your Aging Parents Without Going Broke

Dealing with Alzheimer's or Dementia

Memory loss goes hand in hand with getting older. It's completely normal for an older person to walk into the kitchen and occasionally wonder, "Now, why was I coming in here again?" But if your mother is, say, coming home from the supermarket empty-handed because she couldn't "find anything" on her grocery list, or if she keeps her cleaning supplies in the fridge, pay attention. These may be signs of dementia or Alzheimer's (see for more info). Talk to your parent's doctor to determine if Alzheimer's may be involved.

If the diagnosis is made, visit the Alzheimer's Association for information and access to support groups. A doctor who specializes in dementia care can prescribe medications that can delay the onset of symptoms, among other options. As the disease progresses, check out the MedicAlert + Safe Return program. For $50 up front and a $25 annual fee, your parent will get a bracelet or pendant identifying her as someone with dementia. If she is found wandering, responders can contact her caregiver or family and EMTs will be able to get her medical records.

After a diagnosis, your parent may be angry or in denial. Rather than dictating what should be done, involve her in the conversation. "Coming up with options and talking through them helps a parent feel a sense of control over her experience," says Peter Reed, Ph.D., senior director of programs for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Paperwork Prep

Learn where your parents keep their financial documents and medical information. This can avoid costly mistakes and let you know the extent of their resources. Here are some of the biggies (for a detailed list, check out the financial-planning area at, and print one out for your folks).

  • Wills
  • Durable power of attorney (so someone can legally act on their behalf) and medical power of attorney
  • Advance directive, like a living will, which states wishes for end-of-life care
  • Life insurance policies
  • Long-term-care policies
  • Bank and brokerage accounts
  • Social Security cards
  • Medicare and health insurance cards
  • Doctors' names and numbers
  • List of medications
  • Lawyer and accountant contact information

Originally published on December 9, 2008

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