Senior Finances…More Than Meets the Eye

Most of us know the importance of an annual eye exam for the purpose of early detection of eye abnormalities and changes in vision.   You might be surprised to learn that the eye also can betray hidden problems elsewhere in the body long before other symptoms appear.  For example, ophthalmologists often are the first to discover the presence of type 2 diabetes, based solely on the eye exam.

This isn’t a blog about eye health—but just as the eye can signal problems elsewhere in the body, in some situations, a caregiver can tell quite a bit about a loved one’s condition by looking at their checkbook or other financial records.  Unfortunately, I have experienced this in a most heartbreaking way.

Some years ago, we lost a family member suddenly.  On the surface, Helen appeared to be fairly healthy, well-adjusted and in control.  At age 62, she was an executive in midtown Manhattan. One morning at work, her life abruptly changed to a vegetative state.  By nightfall in the ICU, she had suffered two strokes and a cardiac arrest.

When settling her affairs, we found her checkbook and were aghast to realize that she had been struggling with handwriting and math for several months prior to the events that claimed her life.  While we will never be certain that these events could have been averted, we wondered if we might have been able somehow to prevent or reduce their impact had we only known.

Your loved one might not need help with financial and other business matters today, but there might never be a better time than the present to begin conversations about his/her wishes for the future and their financial feasibility.  If you meet with resistance, assure your loved one that your goal is to ensure his/her wishes can be honored in the future and only in the event that he/she cannot make those wishes known.

Obviously, every situation is unique, and not everyone is headed for a crisis like the one Helen experienced.  However, all caregivers can be informed about their loved one’s wishes, needs and resources.  Start today to:

  • Establish trust and encourage open conversation for goal-setting and information sharing without seeming to “take over”.
  • Educate yourself with regard to Medicaid, Medicare, and other benefits and resources. (To determine what benefits your loved one might be eligible for, go to benefitscheckup.org.)
  • Know your loved one’s financial and medical priorities and wishes, and get these documented (engage an elder law attorney) in a will, power of attorney, health care proxy and living will.
  • Work with your loved one to understand his/her income, assets, and liabilities to establish a realistic budget for the future.
  • Be alert to potential signs of financial abuse (to be addressed in a future blog!)
  • Keep all of the records in one place (and yes, take a look at the checkbook periodically).

Caregiving can be quite a challenge at any time, but it promises to be more than a challenge if we wait until in crisis mode to gather information and make important decisions.  Let’s resolve to be informed!


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