My Father Developed Alzheimer’s Disease and Lost the Ability to Manage Money

by Bobbin Wages

I grew up in a conservative Baby Boomer household. My father worked, while my mother took care of child-rearing and household affairs. Although my father provided all our family’s fiscal support, he granted my mother complete control of his earnings after his monthly contributions to savings accounts and church tithes.

Every week she dispensed his modest allowance. Like many married couples, my parents disagreed a lot about money, but mainly in private. After I achieved monetary independence, my mother revealed to me the true intensity of those arguments. Apparently when my father’s financial stress peaked, he lost the capacity to speak and babbled in gibberish.

Two years ago my father’s attitude toward money completely changed. On Christmas Eve night he circled the living room handing my mother, my older sister, and me envelopes stamped with his investment firm’s logo. Each of us winced when we opened our envelopes to find a 100-dollar bill. Daddy always met our needs and quietly allowed Mother to spoil us on our birthdays, Christmases, and holidays like Valentine’s Day and Halloween with carefully curated goody bags, but he never just handed us cash. We already had taken note of his strange behavior over the summer and finally admitted that something was seriously wrong.

In February 2012 we received an unofficial Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and my father’s ability to manage money quickly eroded. Mother immediately sought power of attorney. She and Daddy met with their financial advisor to finalize his living will and make sure she understood the many measures Daddy had taken to ensure a comfortable future. During his medical leave Daddy called his secretary several times a day to ask the same questions regarding his upcoming forced retirement, and repeatedly phoned his financial advisor to discuss whether retirement was even feasible.

Daddy’s memory loss was paired with an obsessive compulsive personality that masqueraded as depression and stress — one doctor’s erroneous conclusion that I clung to until neurological testing and an MRI confirmed that Alzheimer’s had hijacked my father’s brain.

One afternoon Daddy called HP tech support for assistance performing a basic computer task he had forgotten how to complete. He had somehow gotten duped into buying a new computer, monitor, and printer/copier/scanner. Daddy had no recollection of placing the order, and my mother spent weeks convincing HP to accept the returned devices and clear the charges from Daddy’s MasterCard. Daddy also renewed his costly print subscription to The Wall Street Journal even though Alzheimer’s destroyed his reading comprehension skills. Mother worked hard to cancel that needless expense, too.

Charitable organizations took note of Daddy’s newfound beneficence and garnered his credit card number for donations over the phone. When my mother found out she removed all the plastic from Daddy’s wallet. Veterans groups got creative, though, and coaxed him to agree to give a certain amount on the phone, following up in the mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope in which he could submit a check. Infuriated that veterans would take advantage of a former Airborne Ranger, my mother requested they add my father to their Do Not Contact list.

“My husband has Alzheimer’s,” she explained. “Leave us alone.”

That always shut them up.

In an attempt to avoid bankruptcy, Mother attached a Post-it note to the telephone warning Daddy to stop showering everyone who called him with alms.

My fiancé and I planned to get married the following fall, and my father’s willingness to pay for our wedding shocked me. In the past he grimly agreed to throw my sister and me small covered-dish receptions in the overgrown pasture behind my childhood home. I made a point to keep the expenditures well below average, but Daddy never disputed my choice of dress, photography, venue, food, or open bar; he would have scoffed at the latter option before, but compensated and tipped all the vendors without question.

My mother benefitted from Daddy’s sudden largesse as well, and completed household projects he had refused to fund for decades. She removed the 1980s-era wood paneling from the computer room, repainted many walls, replaced the majority of the house’s interior molding, installed new closet doors, resurfaced the quarter-mile-long driveway, and acquired a brand-new Nissan Cube.

Daddy went through a brief big spending phase as well. He purchased new clothing including a high-end pair of neon green and orange sneakers and requested that my mother drive him to legendary fast-food restaurant The Varsity for a daily serving of chili dogs. His former self rarely shopped and considered eating out a special treat.

When I was a little girl I asked Daddy how much money he made, and he called my question tacky and rude. He revealed his salary to me once when my college scholarship applications required I divulge it. A few weeks ago he checked one of his main savings account balances online and for the first time ever called attention to the total.

“Look at this!” he exclaimed. “Look at all this money! Your mother was always a brilliant investor.”

Although most of Daddy’s personality has crumbled, his sense of humor remains. Lately he sarcastically has harped on Mother’s “financial savvy.”

Daddy’s overall apathy extends beyond the handling of his finances. He lies in bed all day, napping or staring into space with a heartbreakingly blank expression. In the early stages of the disease, Daddy fretted about the unfairness of his condition, but now he no longer seems to care. My mother, sister, and I are the ones who will suffer, emotionally at least. Because of Daddy’s past economical prowess, he and my mother are living off his savings accounts’ interest and deferred compensation. Even though Daddy is incapable of managing money now, his planning secured my family’s future. We just wish Daddy could enjoy the retirement he earned but Alzheimer’s cruelly stole.

Bobbin Wages runs Hot Dog Beehonkus, a blog comprising humorous, joyful, and gut-wrenching stories about her father’s progression through Alzheimer’s disease. She also performs at literary events in Atlanta, Georgia, such as Write Club Atlanta and Scene Missing: The Show.

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