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7 Warning Signs That Elderly Parents Need Help With Their Finances

By Dana LarsenFebruary 12, 2019
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Last Updated: February 12, 2019

There are a number of reasons that elderly parents suffer from financial duress. From cognitive impairment to illness to medication problems, it doesn’t take much for everyday expenses and unpaid bills to cause financial trouble.

It’s important to be aware of the warning signs that your elderly parents need help with finances before things spiral out of control. Knowing these signs can help you not only protect your parents’ assets but also help them get treatment, if necessary.

How to Know When Elderly Parents Need Help

Statistics from The National Council on Aging show that 29% of homeowners over 62 have difficulty or need help with one or more activities of daily living which includes:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Money management
  • Shopping
  • Using the telephone

If you notice a problem in one area, there might be problems in another.

A Place for Mom’s Psychology Expert, Dr. Melissa Henston, provides some guidance on how to spot whether there might be financial problems that often signal other issues for your elderly parent.

“It’s often hard for parents and senior loved ones to admit that they need help and no one wants to lose their independence. However, daily living tasks sometimes get to be too much as we age and it’s important for family members and loved ones to step up and address the problem when this happens — even if it is painful. The problems will not go away and usually need to be addressed in a timely manner.”

Warning Signs That Elderly Parents Need Help With Their Finances

Here are some warning signs that your parents may need assistance with their finances:

1. Bills and mail are piled up and unopened.

Take a look around your parents’ house to see whether there are stacks of unopened or unsorted mail. Pay attention to statements from credit card or mortgage companies, notices from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or utility bills.

If it appears that bills or other mail are not getting opened, either because your parent is slowing down cognitively or is sick, you need to address the problem immediately.

2. Creditors are calling.

You can check caller ID logs to keep track of calls and see whether creditors are contacting your elderly parents. It’s always a good idea to keep track of an increase in phone calls from new numbers that may be bill collectors.

You can also check to see whether there are repeat calls from credit card companies or unpaid invoices from household help, such as gardeners or housekeepers.

3. Sudden expensive purchases.

If your aging parent is suddenly making outlandish purchases or spending a lot of money on things around the house, such as appliances or entertainment — you should investigate.

Anything out of the ordinary that is not an occasional (and rational) splurge may indicate impaired judgment or a sign of memory loss — an early sign of dementia.

4. They’re mishandling money.

If your aging parent suddenly seems oblivious to their expenses or no longer has money in their wallet when they’ve always had it in the past, something may be wrong. A break from normal routines or tendencies is what you need to watch for. In fact, it’s always a good indicator to notice when something seems ‘off’ when you’re out to dinner and they don’t have enough money to pay the bill or get their credit card returned for Insufficient Funds.

If you see undeposited checks or unopened mail from insurance companies, pension funds or Social Security, this might be a sign that they are no longer able to go to the bank, make deposits or have the mental capacity to keep up with their finances. Forgetfulness is something to notice as it is a sign something is amiss.

5. They seem unable to keep up with activities of daily living (ADLs).

Once again, if there are signs that your elderly loved one can no longer handle ADLs, there could be a problem. With age, seemingly easy and mundane tasks can suddenly become unmanageable.

For example, if your parents’ house seems unkempt, in disarray or needing repairs, it’s probably time to re-assess their living situation. Even paying bills can become difficult for seniors who suffer from arthritis as they may have trouble writing checks or typing on the computer for online bill pay.

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

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6. They’re talking about not having enough money.

If money is a new favorite topic, it may be a sign that money is tight. For example, if they’re changing their life habits, such as declining invitations to go out with family or friends or make few car trips to save on gas, you should sit down and discuss finances.

If home repairs are suffering, such as fixing plumbing issues or repairing appliances; it may be a sign that their expenses are too much for them to handle on their own.

7. You suspect they’re a victim to financial scams or fraud.

Caller ID and strange mail can be telltale signs of elder fraud and financial scams. If you see junk-mail catalogs from the following, you should investigate:

  • Solicitations for investment schemes
  • Sweepstakes mailings
  • Unfamiliar companies
  • Vacation home offers

Since older adults are often lonely and very trusting, they can be especially vulnerable to scam artists and telemarketers. Sometimes even well-meaning family and friends can take advantage of the elderly, so it’s important to be aware and investigate if anything seems strange.

When It’s Time for Intervention

Since a health crisis in the elderly can escalate quickly and catch everyone involved off guard, it’s important not to ignore signs that something may be wrong. Ideally, families will have conversations with their children about getting their affairs in order and end of life care well in advance of having any issues.

If happiness or health seems to be compromised, it’s time to have a conversation about finances and address any problems, whether it’s finding in-home care, a retirement community or a senior living community. It’s important to find the right care options for each unique family situation.

Dr. Henston emphasizes the importance of noting anything out of character or outside of normal behavior, as there are ways to improve quality of life if living in the family home is no longer working.

What warning signs alerted you that your elderly parents need help? Share your stories and suggestions with us in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen