We all slow down as we age, both physically and mentally. While many changes are a normal part of aging, some are not.
"As you enter into your 40s, 50s, 60s and upward, you experience normal cognitive aging," says Dr. Daniel Marson, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Those annoying "senior moments," when you can't find your keys or can't remember what you had for dinner last night, are usually just a sign of normal aging.
But some people move to a stage Marson calls "mild cognitive impairment," which is not normal aging and can be a sign of emerging disabilities. The difference between this stage and normal aging is subtle. "By and large, your everyday functional abilities are intact," he says. But one set of abilities appears to erode first. "There are clear impairments in financial skills that emerge in this stage," Marson says.
Marson, a neuropsychologist, notes that the inability to manage one's finances could lead to devastating consequences. "When you begin to screw up your finances, your ability to function independently becomes threatened," he says. He lists five warning signs that a person may be suffering from mild cognitive impairment:
MEMORY LAPSES This includes forgetting to pay bills or paying the same bill numerous times.
DISORGANIZATION Often displayed when a person who previously kept a neat desk now has papers strewn everywhere, including stacks of unopened mail.
MATH MISTAKES A warning sign if a person suddenly has problems doing everyday arithmetic, for example, not being able to calculate a tip at a restaurant.
CONFUSION The inability to understand simple math concepts that were no problem before, for example, understanding what interest is.
IMPAIRED FINANCIAL JUDGMENT Often displayed when a person who was previously prudent and cautious with his money suddenly pursues get-rich-quick schemes and risky investments.
There are some strategies family members can use to avert or minimize a financial catastrophe, but because the person with mild cognitive impairment is still independent, loved ones must tread carefully. With the permission of the parent, an adult child can oversee banking and credit-card statements. This could include setting up online accounts to monitor activity.
And because unpaid bills are often an indication of financial-management problems, it might be helpful to use PSEG-LI's free Friendly Follow-Up program, where customers designate a family member or friend to get a copy of the electric bill if it is overdue. Download an enrollment form at www.nwsdy.li/psegfollowup.