Can Caregivers Help Seniors with Money?

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When once-simple financial tasks become difficult or confusing, it can be the canary in the coal mine signaling that an elderly person is developing dementia.

Financial problems will soon follow once people with cognitive impairment start miscalculating and missing payments, forgetting and misplacing accounts, or falling victim to fraud.

But some good news has come out of a new study of Medicare recipients: the vast majority of the 5.5 million people over 65 with established dementia – usually, though not always, Alzheimer’s disease – are receiving help from family and other caregivers with balancing their checkbooks, depositing and withdrawing money, and conducting transactions.

Even better, they are actually benefitting from it. The seniors who receive assistance are more likely to be able to pay for their essential expenses like rent, food, prescriptions and utilities, according to researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which also sponsors this blog.

There was bad news in the report too: a nontrivial share of the older Americans with established dementia – that is, dementia for at least three years – aren’t getting any help. This problem is expected to grow in future generations. One major reason is longer and longer life spans, which exponentially increase the risk of dementia. Nearly one in three people over 85 are in some stage of dementia. Compounding this is the fact that today’s older workers have fewer children and have divorced more, which shrank the pool of who would be willing to pitch in and help them.

Having a caregiver helping with money management wouldn’t necessarily make an elderly person better off financially. Suppose a daughter is unfamiliar with her mother’s finances or a husband isn’t good at managing his own money. In extreme cases, caregivers sometimes steal from the trusting seniors in their care. Even so, it turns out that it’s better to receive help than not.

The researchers find that financial assistance virtually eliminates the ill effects of dementia on the elderly’s financial condition.  It’s important to point out that they controlled for factors that can enhance someone’s financial savvy, such as education and wealth – people with more money can afford professional help, for example.

Dementia sufferers who don’t get any assistance remain at risk, however. Their family or friends may want to consider some good alternatives, such as the financial services offered by state and local Area Agencies on Aging or the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Representative Payee Program.

The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.


This is a worrisome problem for those seniors who have Social Security as their only asset, as well as for those who have considerable assets.

You mentioned a shrinking pool of family members available to help and, unfortunately, as seniors age, their children can pre-decease them. This happened in my case when my 71 yr. old sister died before my then 95 year old mother. Other family members may live a distance and not really be involved in the daily travails of having to handle the myriad of problems associated with the parent who has dementia, and they may not even be aware of the parent’s monetary outlays as applied to their budget.

For those caregivers who live a distance, the SSA Representative Payee program might be a good choice. And having Power of Attorney, although not the same thing, is another option for a trusted and capable member of the family who lives nearby. While I know financial abuse can occur in families, there are also instances of outside caregivers taking financial advantage of elderly infirm dementia patients; un-authorized use of credit cards included. Unfortunately, these “shorn lambs” are easy prey for the unprincipled.

The Alzheimer’s Association can be a good resource. They have a short booklet which is available and is chock full of useful information.

My mother lived to be 98. She had Alzheimers and needed constant care for the last 4 years of her life. It’s always a shock when someone you’ve been close to, for so long, becomes a ghost of their former self. I was not a helicopter parent but was a helicopter child, as that is what you become when your beloved parent needs you and is helpless. You become the buffer between them and the world. I had only the help of my wonderful husband and my faith in a merciful God.

Diann Miller

This is a huge problem. Caregivers have one of the hardest jobs in the world. It’s necessary but so hard. Thank you for this post, I found it helpful. Coming into this phase of life involves additional tasks, responsibilities and unfortunate events. I recently helped my husband through the loss of his mother and my best friend lost her sister recently. I struggled with this new role of “how to be there” in the appropriate ways. I can’t recommend this book enough: When Their World Stops by Anne-Marie Lockmyer. Grief and loss happen throughout our lives, it seems now more than ever before. Knowing how to be there for someone is such an invaluable tool. I found this book here.

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