Personal finance topics of special interest to the caregiver.

What to watch for over the holidays

What to watch for over the holidays

While we’re feasting, caroling and opening gifts, many of us will celebrate the holidays with family members we have not seen for a long time.

If your travels include visiting with older people , you may be surprised by their change in abilities – especially if you haven’t seen them for a while.  Your visit can be a chance to observe the situation and to ask a few questions, but it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions.

Do not try to diagnose the changes you might see in the older person.  Instead, increase your awareness of risks he or she may be facing—theft of credit card numbers, for example. When it comes to financial matters, maintaining privacy is important. There are a few keys steps to gaining a greater understanding of whether changes in the older person are significant enough to affect their ability to make day-to-day financial decisions .

  • Look around the home for unopened mail, unpaid bills and overdue penalty charges
  • Review credit card bills from the last few months to identify any unusual spending
  • Check that insurance and licenses are up-to-date and appropriate
  • Ask how the person feels about the credit and debit card machines in stores, and whether he or she has memorized their PINs. Check to see if the PINs are written down or shared with others
  • Listen for the mention of any new people in their lives and learn more about their shared interests


Tread Carefully

Consider that  your loved one may be surprised or even alarmed about the conversation. If  he or she is becoming increasingly isolated they will have lost the regular feedback loop that naturally comes through friendships. Your loved one may be unaware of his or her own changes.  Broaching financial topics may be perceived as a threat to the person’s independence and privacy.  Assure your loved one  that you are not intending to take away control over personal financial matters.

Don’t Panic. 

The holiday season is disrupts our regular schedules. We are short on sleep and often eat less healthy meals.  Your older relative is also experiencing schedule disruptions and this may cause him or her confusion or memory loss.  Drawing conclusions about physical or cognitive changes requires time.   Very few of us can appreciate the full situation during a short visit.  Only in the most extreme circumstances should immediate action be taken.  Generally, the best approach is to let the older person know that you want to help and that he or she is not a burden.

Finally, if there is a local relative or friend who has ongoing access to the older person, listen to and respect their concerns and suggestions.  You are not visiting because you need to ‘fix’ the situation.  Enjoy the holidays – all the best this season.

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Lee Anne Davies

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