How do I talk to my loved one with dementia about money?

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Here’s the short answer: don’t.

“Honey, how much does it cost for me to live here?” Ben asked his daughter, Cynthia. 

“Dad, I told you, it’s expensive,” Cynthia said, her head halfway in the laundry basket, looking for some clean pants for her father.

“But how much? Are you using my Social Security? I don’t want to live here! It’s too much money!” he argued, getting upset.

“It’s over $5,000 a month,” Cynthia said, still not paying much attention to the conversation. “I don’t know how long you’ll be able to stay here.”

I’ve seen this situation happen time and time again. Someone with dementia lives in a community setting and realizes that it might be expensive. He or she doesn’t know how much, but they are very concerned. They express these concerns to their friends and family who are paying for their care, and a fight ensues. 

There’s no reason that your loved one with dementia needs to be involved in this conversation.

People with dementia can’t help you plan or organize a grocery list, let alone their personal finances. Why worry them with details over how you’re paying for their care? It’s not fair to your loved one to make them worry, especially when there’s nothing they can do to help you.

Managing finances is actually one of the FIRST things to “go” for someone with dementia. Financial planning is incredibly complex and confusing, so handling multiple accounts, logins, passwords, and paperwork can be nearly impossible. 

I recommend two things to avoid this conversation:

1. First try to change the conversation. Say, “We’re doing just fine!” and then change the topic completely.

2. If this first step doesn’t work, and you have someone who is particularly focused on money, suggest that they received a bunch of money recently that is helping to pay for the care. Or, even, suggest that the care is actually free and the government (or the VA, if they are a veteran) is paying for it.

We know that these things aren’t “true” in our world, but that’s okay. If they help your loved one with dementia sleep at night, then that’s wonderful.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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