Following is the second of a two-part blog by Carol Granger Parker. (Read part one.)
Some people may wonder why it took us two years to realize that Dave had cognitive issues that required diagnosis. As a family, we focused on Dave’s physical health in 2014 and 2015. Dave retained his abilities to socialize at events, dinners and conventions. He could discuss politics, history, geography and the national parks with clarity and distinction. Friends constantly said Dave was fine. They did not see anything wrong. We thought we were exaggerating the signs and symptoms we witnessed. So, we mistakenly laid his behavior issues to getting older, senior moments and retirement.
From denial to acceptance is a unique path for every family member. For our family, it came out of the sky when a longtime friend intervened in 2016 and we could no longer ignore the events. We were not aware of one of the other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: changes in judgment and decision-making when dealing with money.
Dave’s family members became aware of his inability to handle family finances, investments, credit cards, checking and savings accounts in a humorous and then a painful way.
Dave believed all of the Publisher’s Clearinghouse and telemarketer phone calls, TV ads and mailings. He made the required contributions and was convinced he was a winner. (Actually, to this day Dave believes he is a winner.) Dave received trinkets and trash and continued to positively respond to marketers. That is when he started hoarding. I notified telemarketers to stop all mail and calls. That did not work, so I invented new ways to intercede mail and phone calls. I put a lock on our mail box. I unplugged our land line. I monitored Dave’s cell phone.
The painful way we discovered Dave’s financial limitations also came in the mail. Dave continued during the early stage of his disease – while his family was still in denial – to contribute to charitable and nonprofit foundations, as he had done all his adult life. In 2017, I opened a letter from a nonprofit thanking Dave for his commitment of a $150,000 donation and his payment of $75,000. After that shocking news, our family held an intervention. We started going through all of Dave’s financial files and accounts. Dave had contributed considerable sums of money to multiple charities. His record keeping and organization had been in disarray since 2016. It took us months to resolve.
As Dave’s caregiver and spouse, I have one recommendation to put first on your list before you become a caregiver. Feeding and walking the dog can wait, forgetting dates and events is not important, asking the same questions over and over again may be annoying but not critical. If your spouse has been responsible for family finances for your life together, get involved. Find out what is coming in and going out and where it is invested. Dave did an excellent job as the person responsible for finances in our family. Every year, Dave included me in conversations with the accountants, advisers and the taxman. I did not pay attention, because I did not think I would ever have to do that stuff. It all came tumbling down on my head as my responsibility in 2017. I am lucky, because my family helped me get our finances in order. I am still learning about what our son calls “the big financial picture,” but I now pay our all our bills. Don’t wait until the bricks fall.
Medications have modified Dave’s anxieties, impulsiveness and anger. It is Dave’s daily functional living: decision-making, lack of awareness of surroundings and people, inability to complete tasks and other behaviors that make up who Dave is today. Nobody wants to hear the words dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But early detection matters. Just as Alzheimer’s has stages of progression, I write in stages of discovery as a caregiver. The next stage is diagnosis. In a paragraph above I mentioned the “first” neurosurgeon on the road to diagnosis. It is not easy. Stay tuned.
When someone is showing signs of dementia, it’s time to talk. Conversations with family about changing behaviors can be challenging and uncomfortable., though. The Alzheimer's Association has workshops both in the community and online that can provide tips for breaking the ice with your family so you can address some of the most common issues that are difficult to discuss: going to the doctor for a diagnosis, deciding when to stop driving, and making legal and financial plans for future care. Questions? Call our free 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.