Your aging mother has stopped cleaning the house, your father forgets to eat unless he is reminded, or perhaps, someone took advantage of him in a financial scam. These are common symptoms of aging and you may be concerned that your loved one is developing dementia. How do you know when it is the right time to step in to take over the checkbook?

Signs to look for

People don’t usually start having trouble with their memory all at once. The process is gradual. What matters to you is whether your parent can still take care of themselves without help. The signs are more than just forgetfulness, and can also include:

  • Hygiene issues
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Lack of interest in favorite activities or hobbies

Talk to your parent if you notice:

  • Bounced checks
  • Collection and late payment notices
  • Purchases that don’t make sense
  • Scams targeting older adults
  • Any other areas you see your parent struggling with finances

Getting a medical diagnosis

Don’t jump to conclusions. Your parent’s problems could be stemming from another issue, such as mobility, illness or eyesight. A doctor can help you figure out what is going on with your parent and what to expect going forward. They can also determine if your parent is still able to draft legal documents that may help carry out his or her wishes in the future, such as a will, a durable power of attorney for finances, or one for health care (living will). Hopefully, your parent has already created a power of attorney naming you or another trusted adult as the person able to take over your parent’s finances.

Discussing finances can be difficult. If you have siblings, gather the whole family together for support. Remember that they may need help with only the most complicated matters now and may need more help as time goes on. No one likes to see their parents struggle as they age. Luckily, there are many steps you can take before and after you see signs of those struggles to help your aging parent in a loving and compassionate way.