Getting your house in order before there is a dementia diagnosis

One of the biggest frustrations I have faced is the ongoing scavenger hunt for my parents documents. They believed they had everything in order, but failed to consider that their memories would fade and don’t recognize they no longer have the ability to make reasonable decisions.

This isn’t a new problem and the amount of money involved highlights the enormity of this issue. Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that “state treasurers currently hold $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets.”  For the past year, Good Morning America has hosted a segment called “Show me the Money” where they help people get connected to money that is rightfully theirs. It’s easy to overlook an insurance policy, deed or even have a bank account fall off the radar screen.

If you have concerns with your loved ones mental health, take the steps now to get the paperwork organized. There are several categories of documents to consider and some just require that you make a copy so it can be easily accessed if needed.

In addition to the standard items typically recommended, I’ve included several that were required as I have walked the journey with my parents over the past year. All these don’t apply to everyone, but should be comprehensive enough to help most Americans.

The Essentials:

  • Will
  • Living Will
  • Do-not-resuscitate order
  • Trust
  • Specific instructions regarding your wishes
  • Durable Power-of-Attorney (many financial institutions won’t recognize this if it is not on their letterhead)
  • Durable heath care power of attorney
  • Location of documents and as needed access to safe deposit box or home safe combination

Personal Documents

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security number
  • Marriage license / divorce papers
  • Driving license
  • Military identification / service records
  • Other professional license numbers

Financial Documents

        Each should include website, user names, passwords and PINs as established.

  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement, investment and brokerage accounts
  • Stock certificates
  • Savings bonds
  • Life insurance policies
  • Loans, debts or mortgage accounts
  • Partnership and corporate operating agreements
  • Tax returns

Medical Documents

  • Personal medical history
  • Family medical history
  • List of prescriptions and dosage
  • List of healthcare providers
  • Medical insurance and any related website, username, password and PIN as established


  • Home, land or cemetery deeds
  • Documentation on any home or land improvements with receipts
  • Auto titles
  • Service plan records, schedules and preferred providers
  • Utility accounts and any related website, username, password and PIN as established

After I pulled most of these documents together, I had enough people ask me about the system I used that I turned it into a business. You can do this yourself, or consider using the guided workbook called the MemoryBanc Register to help get your paperwork organized.

This is a difficult journey and I decided to make the most of the lessons I have learned by launching my business and sharing the many lessons I learn on my blog. Empowered.

Three Important Things to Practice When Visiting a Parent With Dementia

This experience is constantly teaching me new things. I am learning to appreciate that aspect of my journey since I believe you either expand your mind or it begins to contract. Every day I see my parents, I stretch my grey matter.

Three things I’ve absorbed and practice with my parents include:

After lunch with my parents at the retirement community, my whole family goes to visit in their apartment. My mom has written up several questions she wants to cover with me: “Have all the kids claimed the items they want in the townhouse?”;  “Should they put up the wall between the two townhouses?”; “Can we pay you to drive us instead of calling a cab?”

My mom asks me the questions, but doesn’t take notes. We go through each item and I work very hard to avoid using “Remember?”  I also keep my answers simple and short.

When my mom hits the last question on her list, she goes back up to the top.

By the end of the second cycle, my dad starts to get agitated. He’s slapping his hands on his legs in what feels like “hurry up” in his own sign language.

I work very hard to keep a smile on my face and remain patient. My husband and son are watching this entire exchange and I can feel their eyes on me. I know in their heads they are begging me to end this conversation, but they are both sitting still and quiet.

My brother told me over a decade ago that when you want someone out of your office, stand. I’ve used it for many years in the working world. Today, I used it at my parents house.

I wait until my mom takes a breath and before we enter the fourth round, I stand and thank them for the lovely brunch. My dad, husband and son all immediately follow my cue and we move into the good-byes. Celebrated.

It Takes a Village to Age Them as well as Raise Them

With the Alzheimer’s Association reporting that 1 in 8 older Americans have dementia, it’s likely that this disease will impact all of our lives in some way – be it as the caregiver, loved one or the afflicted.

I have two parents with short-term memory loss, one of which has been diagnosed with dementia. My siblings and I have done two united interventions to ask them to consider making changes to their lives to stay safe. My parents say they will consider our request, but forget that my three siblings were even in town to visit within a few days, much less remember our concern. Letters and calls have been made, but there is no memory of these ongoing discussions or issues.

When we have made small changes, my parents have quickly unraveled them. So when we faced the reality of them driving their cars and writing checks, we moved to considering taking car keys, dismantling the alternator, closing their checking account and physically moving them into their retirement home. However, we know they would be able to quickly remedy each of these challenges, cause rifts as well as financial issues…and possibly a police report or two.

We went to their doctors to ask for help. Two of them made recommendations to stop driving, move into the retirement community and give up the checkbook. It wasn’t until we tried a third doctor that we found one armed with information, compassion and resources to help move us past the roadblock of their will.

My father is retired military and the local base hospital has put together a team with a care manager, social worker and an M.D., and called their legal team to understand how to best care and serve my parents. We are very early in the process to see how the medical team can assist us in this most unusual situation.

Having a couple that both have memory issues is pretty rare. We hope that this extended community will be able to help my parents age with dignity and grace. Prayed.