Navigating the Early Days of Dementia

Imagine if your friends and family started to treat you like you needed help with your day-to-day life. All of sudden, your spouse is taking over and trying to get you to visit the doctor, or your brother is suggesting that you stop driving. You have been living your life and all of sudden it feels like people you love are picking apart your lifestyle and over-stepping their boundaries into your affairs.

man busy using his laptop
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You would be angry, appalled, frustrated and probably kick back.

Consider that if you are the family that is stepping in to help a loved one who doesn’t recognize that their behavior or thinking has changed. I frequently write about Anosognosia, which is the inability of someone who has a condition to recognize its existence. More complicating is if no doctor has even been seen to help diagnose the issue — particularly early on. The family and close network of friends are always the first to notice the changes.

If you do have a loved one that is having trouble managing their day-to-day affairs, assume they can’t recognize it. I always encourage families to get to the Primary Care Doctor and get a referral to a neurologist. There can be a host of reversible issues causing memory loss, and the earlier you see a doctor the better. The next steps are usually and MRI and a neuro-psychological evaluation.

However, you are already noticing a change in your loved one and are concerned. This is the toughest time to navigate. I feel like it’s human nature for the person to almost over manage their life and if there are truly memory issues then you often see a host of double paid bills or even what seem to be knee-jerk moves to manage their lives outwardly.

One client who was complaining of a tooth issue, scheduled and had her tooth removed and major bone graphing done. She was supposed to pre-medicate with antibiotics, which we know didn’t happen. Then, after the procedure, was given a prescription for a week of antibiotics and a daily oral rinse. Thankfully, a timely visit uncovered the hand-written prescription that could be fulfilled and now we are working to help ensure she completes the course of antibiotics.

I have been the one who stepped in. My parents would agree to something, a small change, and then undo any progress made within days. At first I was angry. Then I recognized that my parent’s were not doing it to minimize me or my help, but were doing what they believed was best for them. In most cases, I don’t believe they remembered the change made or why.

I see families and loved ones who feel thwarted and are upset. I get it. However, I just ask that you recognize that they are working very hard to manage on their own as they have for decades. I can now only imagine how frustrated they are to feel so challenged to do things they have always done for themselves and how it be hard to do. Considered.

Parents Resisting Family Help?

I recall my Dad calling to ask me to come over and help Mom pay the bills. When I got there, she said she didn’t need any help as was just offended. When I turned to my Dad he acted like he had no idea why I had shown up.

It was at least a year later before my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my Mom was diagnosed with Vascular dementia.

I now realize my Dad probably had no recollection that he called me.

They were are really good pair!

There were many instances when my parent’s were very clear that they didn’t need the help of their adult children, they were doing just fine on their own. But they really weren’t. I had helped turned back on utilities that never got paid, cancelled duplicate agreements with contractors, and showed up every time they did call to ask for help. When I would arrive 20 minutes later, they had no memory of the request and then just grew suspicious of me like I was making stuff up.

What I realized later was that my parents were trying very hard together. They wanted to protect and help their spouse and weren’t going to rat the other out to the kids. OK, OK, my mom actually ratted out my Dad, but she was the one failing to get the bills paid and he just forgot where he parked the car.

Now that I help other individuals, couples, and families pay bills and manage the day-to-day finances, I realize that couples can be harder to help than just one parent.

There are usually some creative options if you are concerned and continuing to run into roadblocks. If you want to talk some through, use this link to schedule a call. Offered.

When Dad Got Lost Driving

Nearly 9 years ago I started to share some of my caregiving stories on this blog. As the local family member who was watching her parents fail and behave in new and unusual ways, I was horrified and amused.

Some things were so odd that I couldn’t control my laughter when they happened. Thankfully, my parents would usually join in. We had a great relationship. As the baby of the family, I benefited from my older siblings being teens in teh 70’s and breaking in mom and dad. I was also the only one that stayed around after college. We shared many meals, they were around for two grand-kids, and I often tagged along on my mother’s trips to auctions for her antique’s business.

On this one day, my Dad seemed to finally acknowledge that something was wrong. He had been driving to my home for ten years and we lived a few miles away. Instead of arriving early, he showed up half an hour late and filled with anxiety — two things no one would have associated with my dad.

Driving with cognitive impairment is a risk. Now there is a huge variety to term “cognitive impairment” and in general, any noticeable loss of short-term memory could really put a driver, their passenger and others on the road at risk. Changes to the brain that result in memory loss can change thinking and behavoir.

For someone who is already losing, being asked and expected to give up something by choice, that may not seem like a risk, is a much bigger deal than we often consider. Here are a few tips from Mayo Clinic on how to bring up the subject, include them in the discussions, and incorporate their doctor to understand how their cognitive issues could impact driving.

This is usually one of the first big battles. Approach it softly, identify your concerns plainly, and listen openly to help walk this early road and maybe find a silver lining in how you resolve it. Experienced.

Finding a Live-In Arrangement That Works

Most of the individuals I work with that are still in their home want to stay there. The ongoing COVID issues have made many individuals and their families second guess community care. Finding a good solution that works is harder than it might seem, but it is worth the effort.

For solo individuals with a cognitive issue the reality is that staying in their home can be more expensive than community options. It also creates a different form of stress on the family and care team as the risks of living alone create opportunities for major catastrophes. I’ve arrived and had to call 911, battled predatory vendors, and cleaned up identity theft. Had someone been in the home, the impact of these could have been minimized or even avoided.

An ideal solution seems to be having someone live in the home. Most of my clients have unused bedrooms/bath(s) that served the family when they were raising kids and enjoying early retirement. Early on, when intermittent help is needed, most do not like the assortment of personal care assistants that have come into their home to help them. However, if you don’t need more permanent home care, you often face a shifting stream of inexperienced caregivers. The experienced caregivers usually hold out and get assigned to regular and more permanent schedules. This makes it even harder to integrate care when it is needed.

I started wondering how to use the empty bedrooms effectively in the homes of client’s to benefit them. Could we find someone that could bring energy and socialization into the home, and create an intergenerational relationship that benefits both? Is there someone in your extended friends and family that could fill this role?

Most states have rules for domestic employees, which this agreement would fall under. Virginia laws encourage these arrangements. Key components of an agreement should include:

  • Creating key tasks and time needed to fulfill these duties
  • Setting an hourly rate for duties
  • Creating time off and plans for when the individual is not staying in the home
  • Finding a lawyer to put an agreement in place (most elder law attorneys can do this and you can find them here NAELA.org)
  • Rounding our insurance to cover your risks and employment law

We just implemented this solution at one of my clients and it has already been a huge relief to know that there is someone in the home on a daily basis. The ongoing engagement is also going to benefit the homeowner. The best part is that we will also have minimized the costs of care.

Here is copy of the agreement the state of Virginia offers to help put an agreement together. You can see if your state offers this resource, on your favorite browser, type in “live in caregiver agreement” and see what may find.

I am happy to get on the phone and tell you more about how we made this work. Use this option to book a time on my schedule.

I’m hopeful that this solution might work for you. Provided.

Successful Transitions and Dementia

There are many times when it feels like it is imperative to make a change for safety or financial security. However, so often those transitions are so difficult to manage most often because the individual who is impacted doesn’t recognize the change needs to be made.

Waiting is the hardest part.

I have learned that patience and perseverance win the day. After living through forced transitions and the aftermath of emotions and anger when I was living through this with my parents, I found my shift to softer and supportive worked best.

Yes, working in tandem and going at a slower pace take more time. However, imagine if you were on the other side of the equation, isn’t that what you would want?

We arrive as caregivers with a variety of different baggage. The person that is living with cognitive impairment and dementia will have a harder time changing, so the reality is that this falls to the loved ones and support around the individual.

I am working with a client now who knows she has memory issues and a dementia diagnosis, but believes that she can manage the finances just fine on her own. To help, I’m building a monthly schedule to help her and asking the friendly visitor to put due dates on the calendar to remind her to get the bills paid. We will confirm in the background that the bills she needs to pay did indeed get paid.

I work with father/daughter team and over the holidays, the dad finally resigned as Trustee. We have had to fight predatory home service companies and this summer walked in to find a hacker had control of his computer and was starting to transfer money out of his bank account. Thankfully we stopped it in time, but then we spent nearly six months cleaning up the aftermath of the account and credit freezes we put into place. However, his daughter respected how much this meant to him and never pushed him. Over the course of the past two years, she has gently and kindly reminded him of the issues and on this visit, he finally agreed it was time to make the transition.

I know everyone doesn’t have the support and resources that some of my clients have, but I believe there are still ways to reconsider the threat and find ways to support your loved. Got an issue? I’m happy to help. Sending an email to me at Info@MemoryBanc.com. Supported.

Strokes, Free Will, and Frustration For All

I am working for a gentleman who had a stroke. He is challenging every tool I have as well as frustrating his family who is very concerned for his safety and fiscal well-being. It’s hard to help someone that can’t recognize they need the help. While he saves up the mail and is happy to have us manage his bills and medical claims, he is taking cash out of his ATM regularly and has no recollection of where his cash went.

He left the rehab facility after his stroke and returned home where all daily living rules have changed. His habit of eating out could no longer be met. The doctor told him he should not drive, yet he is driving all over. His friend is bringing in meals for the two of them and now he is spending way beyond his means but has no awareness of money management.

I walked into this account while he was in rehab to find he was already $70,000 in debt and no longer had any credit on either of his cards.

The family members are beyond frustrated. I fully understand. You try to help and then your loved ones undo all the help you layered in not recognizing or appreciated the help. Then they usually get mad at you for butting into their lives.

A caregiver is coming in daily to help, but “Mike” keeps getting in his car and driving around. He doesn’t understand the need for social/physical distancing. He also doesn’t believe that he needs to stop driving. The doctor told him he had to go to the DMV to get assessed and put in a request to suspend his license. He still has a license with a valid date in his wallet and is continuing to drive. That is the biggest challenge – what are some options to stop the unlicensed driving?

When my parents were driving on suspended licenses, I quickly ensured that we first followed the need that caused the driving. Do they need groceries? Do they need to get to a medical appointment and aren’t used to calling cabs?

Once we knew those basic needs were met and this was more about control and freedom than need:

  1. I made sure they had umbrella insurance. If they were in an accident, my guess is that their auto insurance would not cover them since they were driving on suspended licenses.
  2. I calmly conveyed the possible consequences that they could harm themselves or others (they poo-pooed this idea); that their insurance didn’t cover uninsured drivers and an accident could consume their savings (they pulled out a valid license … they had torn up the notes from DMV suspending their licenses and requiring they turn in the driver’s licenses); that they could be taken to jail.
  3. We unplugged the starter (a neighbor helped to reconnect it after they told them what their horrible children were doing to them).
  4. My brothers came into town to help once things got REALLY bad and hid their cars. This is the one that finally worked.

Some other suggestions from other care managers include:

  • Offer to schedule defensive driving lessons. There are specialists that work with individuals who have lost their license and help coach positive skills behind the wheel.
  • Call the local police and see if they will visit the driver and offer a friendly warning. One family that did this put a boot on the car following the visit from the police.

The balance of free will and safety with love and family dynamics can make all of this so frustrating. I hope some of those suggested might help you. Experienced.

Guilt: The Hidden Emotion carried by Adult Family Caregivers

For those of us caring for or having cared for a loved one (dementia or major health issues that require you as the family member to step up and advocate), we know that guilt is a constant companion and lingering emotion long past death. What could I have done better, different? Why didn’t I do X, even though Mom made me in clear she wanted Y?

Since I help with the day-to-day finances, home upkeep and am often named as the Power of Attorney and Trustee, I am finding I’m very sensitive to the language used by other professionals on the care team. While I am not involved in managing the home care or medical choices, I am usually copied on the discussions about the medical needs since they usually impact the finances.

I still have crazy dreams every once in a while where I have failed to visit my Mom in her memory care community. It’s almost been five years since she had her heavenly departure, but I guess these are similar to the dreams I used to have where I forgot to show up for my final college exams.

If you serve in a capacity as a:

  • Friendly visitor
  • Care Manager
  • Financial Advisor
  • Personal Care Assistant

Please recognize that the adult family caregiver is already grieving, probably feels the constant companion of guilt for NOT being involved enough, and focus on sending positive reports and using the care team in place to manage those things that need addressing that you can resolve without the family caregiver. Of course you should absolutely speak up if you feel the individual is in danger or could harm someone.

What I believe after living this journey with my parents is that “You don’t know what you don’t know” — which is perfectly OK. However, if you have not ever lived as an adult caregiver, recognize that the person that is living this journey, what you share with them matters and I hope you will just consider that filter when you send them updates on visits with their loved ones. Suggested.

What is the Right Deci$ion for Mom and Dad’s Care?

For those podcast fans, please check out Rodger That a weekly podcast focused on the caregiver. Here, skilled caregivers, Bobbi and Mike Carducci offer their personal and practical insights on caring for a loved one with dementia, as well as tips to help caregivers prioritize their own emotional and mental well-being.

Bobbi & Mike interviewed me on how caregiving can be emotionally & physically challenging, but also a rewarding, selfless act. However, it shouldn’t come at the expense of your financial health & well-being.

We discussed a few things I learned as the adult family caregiver for two parents for 5 years, as well as have used to help dozens of families as a Daily Money Manager in the metro-DC area. #Honored.

Savoring Your Time as an Adult Child

I had a conversation today with a woman who is a Certified Caregiving Consultant named Bobbi Carducci. She and her husband Mike cared for Rodger Carducci (Mike’s father) for 7 years. Bobbi and Mike host thought leaders on their weekly podcast who share invaluable insights and helpful tips on the challenges caregivers face.

It’s easy to look back on your time as a caregiver and imagine all the places you could have managed differently. I let that baggage go in the middle of my own caregiving journey because I wanted to keep moving forward. The second-guessing of my choices started to paralyze me.

Today, I can freely admit the one thing I wish I had done, and considered, was how to better be the daughter. I spent countless hours of my time in my parent’s community chasing down medical team members, making calls about insurance, banking or tax matters.

I wish I would have used that time to just hang out with my parent’s.

Thankfully, my parent’s had planned well and had the resources for me to hire these individuals. Maybe the additional interaction with others would have also provided them with more engagement. I will never know, and can’t change the past for myself, but I can share with you now how I look back on my time as the primary family caregiver.

You don’t know what you don’t know. Trying to figure it out is exhausting. You can start by listening to a few episodes of Bobbi and Mike’s Podcast Rodger That.

I frequently and adamantly recommend you schedule a call* with a local Aging Life Care Manager. In minutes they can help you navigate the maze of medical options and choices for your loved ones. Lastly, if you need help figuring out how your loved ones finances are structured, or if you have concerns about fraud or abuse, contact* a Daily Money Manager. Encouraged.

* Please use the tools on the sites to find these professionals to INTERVIEW them and make sure they are a good fit for you and your loved one. Some people like high-energy while others find a calm demeanor a better fit. The best place to start is to ask your Estate Lawyer, Financial Advisor, and even your Accountant. They will most likely have other clients who have used these resources.

Helping Celebrate the Important Life Dates

My parent’s got married 67 years ago today. When I was the adult family caregiver, I worked to find unique and fun ways to celebrate with my parent’s when they could no longer plan or manage these life events.

I went back to read my post from 7 years ago, I openly admitted that slight effort felt overwhelming to me at the time. What I recognize now is that I didn’t have to manage everything. I could have asked a sibling to help, but none of them were local which brings some extra hurdles to both financial and medical task management. (I recognize I’m still making excuses for not giving up CONTROL ; > )

Celebrating 60 Years of Marriage

What I learned on the journey was that there are resources that I could have hired to help manage the medical needs of my parents (Aging Life Care Managers), and handle the day-to-day finances (Daily Money Managers).

What I regret now that both of my parent’s are gone was that I didn’t focus on being the daughter and find the joy in planning and celebrating these events with my parents. I got mired in the management and coordination of their care and finances. If I could do it again, I would manage things differently.

On their 60th anniversary, I did enjoy a nice visit. At this point they were in a two room apartment in Assisted Living. We had all dreaded moving our parents from their 3-bedroom apartment in Independent Living just a few months prior, but the community said we either moved them into Assisted Living or they would be moving them out of the community.

My parent’s were so happy with their new, smaller apartment. Neither myself or any of my siblings would have believed this to be true until we witnessed it.

I noted on this day we talked about how few couples make it to their 60th wedding anniversary. My Mom shared how lucky she felt they made it this far and was with their current life. At this point, both of my parents were living with dementia that was progressed enough that they could no longer manage their daily activities without assistance and cueing.

I’m honored I was able to celebrate this day with my parent’s. I hope you are able to find the joy when they are still on this earth here with you. Reflected.

The value of multigenerational family living $$$

For twenty years, my Mom told me she never wanted to live with her children. They bought into a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) also referred to as “Life Care” Communities so they would “never be a burden” to their children. For those of you that have seen the first few years of my blog … helping my parents was a very complicated affair. I won’t say it was a burden, but we could have done it way better had we not tried to directly follow my Mom’s wishes.

I’m going to first share the cost of their care using the CCRC.

Non-refundable deposit to get into the CCRC $500,000 (1999)
This was in 1999 when that was how it worked.

Annual “rent” for their Independent Living apartment $ 38,400
This was the average cost from 2000 to 2012 for a total of $499,200.

At the end of 2012, the community required they move from Independent Living into the Assisted Living community. These were their “discounted” rates for their community since they paid the half of million to move in.

Annual cost for Assisted Living (for two) $117,600 (2013)
Dad passed away in 2013.

Annual cost for Assisted Living (for one) $ 94,800 (2014)
Annual cost for the required personal care
assistant for my Mom $ 98,208

Assisted Living was not the right place for my Mom with dementia. The residents didn’t want to eat with my Mom would couldn’t learn their names and my Mom stopped going to the dining room for meals. As you may know, there is no kitchen in Assisted Living and my Mom was unable to prepare her own meals. She became very agitated and so they required we hire a personal care assistant for 12 hours. The memory care community in the CCRC was only for end-stage individuals with dementia so neither the Assisted Living or the Memory Care were the right fit. We made the choice to move her to a Memory Care community outside of their “Life Care” community. So much for the HALF A MILLION they paid to move into this community.

Annual cost of Memory Care community $ 81,600 (2015)
Annual cost for the necessary personal care
assistant for my Mom $111,600

My Mom was unsteady on her feet after a medication put her in a state of delirium in 2015. She kept falling and ending up in the Emergency Room (ER). We hired someone who could help her use her walker and assist her and keep her out of the ER.

So at the end of this journey, my parents spent over $1.5 million. They saved and invested well so they had the money to pay for their care. But knowing what I know now, we could have used that money better to manage the last fifteen years of their lives.

As I sit here today with many of my clients in communities cut off from family and at a higher risk of getting covid, I realize I need to start having a discussion with my children. When we or one of us needs help, I hope my children will be able to make the best decision for us at the time they need to make it. No preset conditions because our world and how we will care for older adults is also changing.

For $1.5 million, I would have preferred to have a home where my parents could have lived with us, but still had the freedom to be independent. When they needed care, we could have arranged to bring it in. Thankfully, our community has gobs of ways to stay engaged and active and we could have used that money to pay for the personal care assistants to help them lead their lives when they needed it.

From 2012 through 2015, I was spending more than 20 hours a week helping them in one form or another. The last three years of my Mom’s life cost over $500,000. Had she been living with us, I could have spent more time being a daughter instead of a family caregiver, bill payer, medical support and care manager. I now know how to bring in the support to help fills these roles and that would have been much less expensive and I believe more joyful for me and my Mom.

This is the first time I sat down to add it all up. What I do know is that the current care solutions, whether in their own home or in a community, are not ideal for most of my clients right now. They are all very isolated and we don’t see this ending any time soon.

The reality is that things change and what is important today, may not be important tomorrow. So leave some space for adaptability.

Might it be time for us to move back to multigenerational homes and return to a personal model of caring for our loved ones? Advocated.

To learn more about my journey and the tool I created to help families manage and coordinate the personal information to be a great advocate, get a copy of MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life