Alzheimer’s isn’t always the culprit.

According to Steve Finkelstein, president and founder of Sterling Retirement, even healthy retirees can struggle with taxes, investments and other personal money matters.

A financial planner for 25 years, Finkelstein has helped many a sharp-minded client recover from the common pitfalls: disorganized estate planning, overspending in proportion to savings, even holding too much in cash reserves (which generate zero earnings for the long term).

Of course, Finkelstein has also spotted clients in cognitive decline, which presents its own set of financial challenges — especially during the early stages of disease, when the condition has remained unnoticed or family members are still in denial. Here the problems include neglect, forgetfulness and falling prey to swindlers.

Sickness or none, how can you — a busy adult — tell if your retired parent needs help managing their money? Finkelstein offered these helpful tips:

1.CHECK THE MAIL. Be on the lookout for heaps of unopened mail, said Finkelstein. “If you go over to [the parent’s] house and you find there’s a whole bunch of mail that’s unopened — they’re probably not paying their bills,” he said.


2.GO SPYING. It’s never nice to invade someone’s privacy, least of all an independent older parent’s. But sometimes, “you’ve got to get in there and snoop around,” stressed Finkelstein. Try combing bank and credit card statements to sniff out unusual or large purchases. Finkelstein used this tactic with one of his longtime clients, a historically frugal woman. “She’s 78 years old. We saw that some guy came to the house and sold her a $3,000 vacuum,” he said. As it turned out, sadly, the woman was suffering the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.


3.MAKE A SWEEP. Here’s another obvious, if unnerving, piece of advice: Make an occasional survey of the parent’s housekeeping and personal hygiene habits. “I would look at the refrigerator and see if there’s food spoiling. And if the parent historically has been tidy I would take very specific notice of the house and the condition of their clothes,” said Finkelstein. These, of course, are signs the parent is shirking the basics — probably on finances, too.


4.TOO TAXING! April 15 provides a handy excuse. “This would be an excellent time of year to ask how it’s going with taxes,” said Finkelstein. “If [the parent] seems overwhelmed that could be an indication” of a bigger problem.


5.BE THERE. “It’s so basic,” said Finkelstein. “Try talking to your parents — be in touch with them.” He suggests listening carefully for patterns or issues that keep coming up. “Those are probably some significant red flags,” he said. Or take the more delicate tack of tagging along to meetings with tax accountants, attorneys or financial advisers. □