For Caregivers, Dealing with Dementia Can Be Tough Reality

More than 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. What those numbers mean is that, either directly or indirectly, this condition touches almost every family.

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For loved ones, the reality of managing the care and financial affairs of perhaps an elderly parent or spouse with diminished mental capacity can be a nightmare, and sadly, tales of exploitation and abuse are common.

Dr. Sanford Finkel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Medical School, says that unusual behavior can often be an early sign that someone may be suffering from some form of mental decline or impairment. Finkel specializes in geriatric psychiatry and has often been used as an expert consultant and witness in cases of contested wills.

“I had an example of a woman who got up in a restaurant and started dancing and her husband asked her what she was doing, and she replied that there was music and she always danced when there was music,” said Finkel. “That was his first realization that something was wrong.”

For others, signs of a problem could be as simple as getting lost while driving in a familiar environment or wearing dirty clothes when they used to be meticulous about their dress.

“As time goes on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s becomes more obvious,” said Finkel, who notes that this can often cause discord among families.

“It’s very painful for a family to acknowledge that their parents are declining and are not behaving as they used to. There’s a certain amount of denial that takes place in many families and sometimes that creates tension.”

Barbara Finder leads a wealth management team for investment bank Morgan Stanley in Chicago, specializing in helping people close to and in retirement maintain financial independence.

She says that given the cost of care and the burden it often imposes upon the family, communication and planning ahead is the most important thing.

“Advance planning is just something I can’t stress enough,” said Finder. “If we can we do a cash-flow analysis and we are building into it the increased cost of healthcare. We try to encourage our clients to save so that whether it’s a healthy retirement or not they have options.”

She notes that 60 percent of family caretakers wind up using some of their own funds to cover the cost of care.

“The most common financial abuse cases that we see are caregiver abuse cases,” said Kerry Peck, managing partner at the law firm Peck Ritchey LLC who specializes in elder law and cases of financial exploitation. “The typical scenario is an older adult is left one-on-one with a 24/7 caregiver. You see a lot of women taking advantage of elderly men in what develops into being an intimate relationship.”

Peck helped rewrite the state’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Act and has also written the book “Alzheimer’s and the Law,” published by the American Bar Association.

He says that oftentimes, the caregiver encourages a vulnerable elder to sign off on things they do not comprehend.

“Whether it’s checks, trust documents or deeds, anything where one signature does it all and they are off to the races,” said Peck. “We had a case a few years ago where the caregiver hit an old guy up for $300,000 and then was on the next plane back to Eastern Europe.”

Under the state’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Act, anyone who holds a license issued by the state is mandated to report any cases of suspected elder abuse.

He advises anyone who suspects an elder is being abused to call the states Adult Protective Services hotline: 1-866-800-1409, 1-888-206-1327 (TTY).

Sanford, Finder and Peck join host Phil Ponce to discuss the challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia.

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