Is it time to intervene in your loved one’s life? If so, how? And is it possible to still be liked in the process?
We looked at those questions in Is It Time for Intervention? Part 1: Safety Awareness & Judgment. In this post, we’ll look at how changes in home environment can offer clues that something is amiss.
Signs of Changes in Home Environment
Sign: Unusual banking practices
Seniors are routinely targeted for phone scams; people with cognitive impairment are particularly susceptible. Monitor check registers, watching for checks in large amounts to unknown entities.
Why it’s a big deal: Seniors (not specifically people with dementia) in the US are scammed out of $36 billion–12x as much as previously thought!
I worked with a family a few years ago who thought things were going “okay enough.” They decided it was time to intervene when Grandma wrote a check for $1200 of beef. Her granddaughter, who helped with bill paying, saw the check and didn’t recognize the name of the payee.
The freezer revealed about $300 worth of ground beef.
This story actually has a happy ending: Grandma–who lived in a rural, isolated area–opened the door to a strange man and only paid 4x as much for ground beef as she should have. It could have been much, much worse.
When to intervene: The sooner, the better.
Intervention quick tip: Set up online banking to catch problems quickly. Better yet, assist with paying bills. Best, set up auto payments directly.
Sign: Uncharacteristic change in home cleanliness
People with dementia can become easily overwhelmed–even when someone has run a household for 50+ years. One day, it just becomes too much to keep track of the yard man, the laundry, and the dishes, let alone dusting and vacuuming.
Why it’s a big deal: Undone household tasks can become trip and health hazards, as well as attracting pests. Outdoor signs of an unkempt home can also attract scam artists.
When to intervene: As soon as you notice a problem. It seems couterintuitive, but the more pronounced the problem becomes, the more resistive people usually are to help. It easier to intervene when it’s “no big deal.”
Intervention quick tip: You’re likelier to achieve success by “assuming the sale.” Rather than asking, “Do you want help with your laundry?” breezily announce your washer is on the fritz as you throw one of your shirts in with 10 of your dad’s.
Sign: Collecting unnecessary items
Collecting tv dinner containers, plastic bags, and the like is not uncommon for people who grew up during the Depression. However, if this is a change, or junk mail and solicitations are now in the “keeper” pile, there’s a problem.
Why it’s a big deal: During the 2016 election cycle, a political party sent a “bill” letting recipients know they were “past due” and would no longer be in good standing if they didn’t send in a check right away. Despite the fact this was a load of hooey–it was a straight-up solicitation–it was a rather successful fundraiser for the grand old party that sent it.
I worked with a client who a dining room table that seated 12 covered in stacks of junk mail. He was afraid he was going to miss something important. For people who are cognitively impaired, it can be more difficult to discern the difference between important mail and junk mail.
When to intervene: When money that didn’t usually go out the door does and/or when the items are piling up and becoming unmanageable.
Intervention quick tip: Remove your person from mailing lists.
Sign: Utilities cut off
This too falls in the “overwhelm” category. Unpaid bills–even though money is available–is a sign it’s time for intervention.
Why it’s a big deal: Seniors often aren’t the best about turning on the a/c in extreme heat, or the heater in extreme cold, because our internal thermostats aren’t too accurate as we age. It’s worse for people with cognitive impairment. A bad situation can quickly get worse before they’re even aware it’s a problem.
When to intervene: ASAP
Intervention quick tip: While you’re arranging restoration of service, move forward with setting up online bill pay, auto pay, or getting the statement sent to your home.
Sign: Sudden increase in magazine subscriptions, mail-in offers, Franklin Mint collectibles, sweepstakes
This was one of the first clues we had in my family about my grandma Anna. It eventually came out she was certain “the contest people” were watching her. That meant she had to keep ordering, as well as save all the magazines.
Why it’s a big deal: My grandpa had a shed full of magazines and was down $30,000 before he eliminated Anna’s access to the bank accounts. They were very, very lucky they could absorb that big a financial hit; many people cannot.
When to intervene: Sooner rather than later. Anna was also ordering collectible plates, carousels, and bird figurines. In twos. The shed was full of magazines, and the spare bedroom was so full of shipments both twin beds were invisible.
Intervention quick tip: Cancel bank cards, or set a limit you can live with that cannot be exceeded.
If you’re noticing these signs, your person needs additional help and supervision–whether she’s got a dementia diagnosis or not. Please take action; your person is counting on you to have her back.
Home care is a great way to go about this: you get a break, and your loved one gets a new companion. If you’re unsure how to go about introducing home care, reach out for help.
Need expert help? Schedule a complimentary dementia care partner strategy call with me!
Christy Turner is a speaker and consultant, the founder of DementiaSherpa.com, and creator of the program What To Do When Your Parent or Partner Has Dementia. She’s a regular contributor on The Alzheimer’s Podcast with her segments “Guiding You Through Rough Terrain with The Dementia Sherpa.” Christy has enjoyed the privilege of working with over 1200 people living with dementia and their families.