Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Dementia and Managing Money: When Your Parent Refuses to Let You Help

Cameron Huddleston
Cameron Huddleston
January 19, 2023
Dementia and Managing Money: When Your Parent Refuses to Let You Help

Difficulty handling financial tasks is one of the first signs of dementia. The good news, though, is that people with dementia who receive assistance with their finances are much less likely to experience financial hardship than those who don’t get help, according to an analysis by the Center for Retirement Research. 

What do you do, though, if Mom or Dad has dementia or is showing signs of memory loss, but doesn’t want your help with money matters? Some parents are willing to accept assistance, but others don’t want their kids getting involved with their finances—even though they might no longer be capable of managing their finances on their own. If your parent is resisting your attempts to help, it’s important to first pinpoint why there is reluctance. Then you can tailor your approach to increase the chances of your parent letting you get involved.

Reasons your parent might be reluctant to let you help

It might seem apparent to you that memory issues are hurting your parent’s ability to manage money well. However, there could be several reasons that you’re getting pushback from your parent when you try to offer assistance, says Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and author of “Money Mammoth.” 

  • Your parent doesn’t want roles to be reversed. By offering to help your parent with money matters, “it’s a dramatic shift in roles,” Klontz says. Your parent might still see himself or herself as the one who provides help rather than the one who receives help. The fear of a role reversal could be the source of resistance from your parent.
  • Your parent’s culture is a roadblock. In some cultures, it’s expected that children will help care for parents as they age. However, Western culture tends to resist, rather than embrace, that idea. “Parents feel guilty because they think it’s their job to take care of their kids, not vice versa,” Klontz says. Letting you help with money matters could feel like a big loss of independence for your parent.
  • Your parent might be in denial. If your parent doesn’t want to accept that he or she is having memory problems or accept a diagnosis of dementia, that denial likely is triggering a resistance to your offers of help. 
  • Your parent might be paranoid. People with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can become suspicious—even paranoid. If your parent has become paranoid as a result of dementia, your parent might not trust you to assist with money matters. However, it’s important to consider whether you’ve given your parent a reason not to trust you, such as borrowing money without repaying it. If you have, it might be better for another family member to help your parent with financial matters.

If you can identify why your parent is resisting your efforts to help, you may have more success in finding a way to get your parent to accept your offer of assistance.

Ways to offer help

If your parent needs your help, your goal is to frame your offer of assistance in a way that gives you the best chance of getting your foot in the door, Klontz says. Here are some approaches to consider. The one that works best will depend on your parent’s situation and reason for resisting help.

Use reflective listening 

This is a technique therapists use that Klontz says can be effective in getting a reluctant parent to accept your help. The key is to listen to what your parent is saying without interruption then make a statement or ask a question that reflects what your parent said.

For example, if Mom says she doesn’t want your assistance with her finances, you could respond by saying something like, “So you’re saying you don’t want any help.” Klontz says that there’s a chance mom might say, “That’s right.” But she’s more likely to say, “I’m not saying I don’t need any help.” Then you could ask Mom in what ways she could see you helping. Often, if you reflect back what a person has said, the person will want to clarify it, Klontz says. And that could give you room to negotiate some level of assistance.

Make your offer of help a positive experience

If Dad, for example, is in denial about his memory loss, your offer of help with money matters might put him on the defensive. You might have more luck getting him to accept your assistance by making it a rewarding experience. 

If you can identify why your parent is resisting your efforts to help, you may have more success in finding a way to get your parent to accept your offer of assistance.

For example, you could bring Dad dinner. After eating, you could say something like, “While I’m here, how about I help you go through your mail to separate the junk from the bills.” Or offer to take a financial task you know he dreads off his plate. You could say something like, “I know how stressful it is to write checks for all of your bills each month. I could help you set up automatic bill payments.” Make it appear that you want to make things easier for your parent rather than that you think your parent isn’t capable of managing money matters on his own.

Let your parent know you’re on his or her side

If your parent has become suspicious, don’t be confrontational. Highlighting your parent’s paranoia will make you seem like an enemy, Klontz says. Instead, listen with empathy as your parent shares fears and acknowledge your parent’s concerns. “You want them to feel like you’re on their side,” Klontz says. “It will help ease the anxiety.”

Get a third party involved

The parent who wants to avoid a role reversal might respond better to an unbiased third party than to you. Liz Barlowe, president of Barlowe & Associates, suggests enlisting the help of an aging life care manager to assess your parent’s cognitive abilities and provide specific strategies. “An aging life care manager is skilled in working with demented individuals and can often lead them in a way to accept help while maintaining their dignity,” says Barlowe, who is a certified aging life care manager. 

The care manager might help your parent recognize the challenges he or she faces, underscore the threat of scams, identify products to safeguard finances or even help identify an elder law attorney to draft a power of attorney document that allows your parent to appoint someone to make financial decisions for him or her. You can find an aging life care manager through the Aging Life Care Association.

If your parent has appointed you to be his or her durable power of attorney, you can make financial decisions and transactions for your parent if your parent is no longer competent enough to handle money matters. Ideally, though, it’s best to use one of these approaches to persuade your parent to let you help rather than simply take over your parent’s finances.

[ Keep Reading: Your Parent Was Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now What? ]

Cameron Huddleston

Cameron Huddleston

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