Does your loved one with dementia regularly seem to lose money? Or does it seem to 'disappear' faster than it should? Here’s how you can help them cope.

They had a wad of cash in their wallet yesterday – you saw it with your own eyes – but today they’ve only got a few coins left. So what do you do? You know that they might get defensive if you ask them where it’s gone, they may even blame a carer, neighbour or other relative for stealing it, which could be embarrassing. But you can’t sit back and watch their hard-earned money disappear.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Money management skills are often amongst the first to go when a person has dementia, resulting in confusion and tension amongst family members. And it’s often the small stuff that causes most pain. For while many families prepare for the big issues such as updating a Will or setting up a Power of Attorney, it’s often more day-to-day money matters that catch them off guard, and can lead to untold stress.

Here’s some of the issues you might come up against – and how to deal with them.

Purse/wallet/cash regularly disappears

Regularly losing a wallet or purse, or the money inside it, is sadly very common and can cause the person with dementia much anxiety, particularly if they are prone to paranoia or suspicious thoughts.

The need for cash

For older people, cash is still king and having some in their purse, pocket or wallet can help them feel calm, in control and independent. This could be why losing their money – or forgetting where they left it – can feel so distressing. No amount of kindly reassurance along the lines of ‘never mind, it’s only money,’ will help.

Three solutions for money-handling issues

1. Keep at least one spare purse or wallet in a safe place so that they or you can ‘find it’ if the other one goes missing. But make sure it also has money inside it!

2. Try to make sure the amount of money they have in the purse is quite small but made up of coins and notes so that it feels more substantial.

3. If all else fails, you may want to consider giving your loved one some ‘play’ money to put in their purse. This is a very personal choice – some consider it demeaning to give people with dementia fake money designed for children to play with. However, it could also keep their real money safe. If you do decide to go down this route make sure the fake money is only used at home. It could become very embarrassing for them if they try to use it in shops.

Withdrawing large amounts of money from the bank

Many people assume that if they have Power of Attorney their loved one won’t be able to do this. Unfortunately, complex banking rules (which can differ widely) and counter staff who don’t understand how Power of Attorney works, can sometimes result in a person with dementia being able to continue withdrawing money from their bank.

If you’re concerned about this, check with your loved one’s bank, and if you think they’re not following correct procedure, make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Limit the need for cash

Make sure all their bills are paid by direct debit. Pensions, other income and benefits can also be paid directly into a bank account. Limiting the need for cash reduces the chances of it going missing, and makes them less vulnerable to doorstep fraudsters or burglars. And providing they always have cash to hand when necessary – whether to give pocket money to a grandchild, buy a packet of biscuits from the corner shop, or a birthday card for a friend – it doesn’t need to affect their quality of life.

Did you know?
US research reveals that one of the first signs of impending dementia is an inability to understand money and credit, contracts and agreements.