I started getting involved with my mom’s finances after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 65. It was a role I never expected I would have to take on. I had no choice, though, but to help her.

My mom was living on her own at the time of her diagnosis. So, I couldn’t sit by and let her declining memory lead her to financial ruin. In fact, it took a lot of oversight and careful planning to ensure she had enough money to cover the cost of her care as Alzheimer’s disease left her unable to care for herself.

Truth be told, I should have been paying more attention to my mom’s finances before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. As I learned, waiting for an emergency to get involved can be a mistake. And new research backs that up.

Missed payments are an early sign of dementia

It’s well-documented that a decline in financial capabilities is an early sign of cognitive decline. However, research recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias were more likely to miss bill payments six years before a diagnosis. After a diagnosis, missed payments and adverse financial events became even more prevalent.

Those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias were more likely to miss bill payments six years before a diagnosis.

Researchers were surprised by how many years in advance of a diagnosis that the Medicare recipients they studied were making financial mistakes. One of the authors told CNN that the hope is that patients or their loved ones realize something is wrong before it’s too late.

What does too late look like? If your parent is having trouble staying on top of money matters because of dementia, she could get kicked out of an apartment because of missed rent payments. She could lose her house if she fails to pay the mortgage. She could be conned out of her money by scammers. And you might have no way to legally get involved without going to court if your parent hasn’t named you power of attorney and no longer is of sound mind.

Find out why power of attorney is essential.

Other reasons to monitor your parents’ finances

The chance that your parents might develop dementia isn’t the only reason to keep tabs on their finances. Other issues could crop up that might force you to get involved with their money matters.

  • Your parents might not have managed their money well and could be struggling financially. However, they likely won’t discuss their financial woes with you—that is, until they’re in dire straits and need help. Identifying issues early on could offer an opportunity to help your parents get their finances and track and reduce the chance that they’ll have to rely on you for support.
  • As your parents age, they’re more likely to have a variety of health issues that could affect their ability to handle money matters. Getting involved with their financial lives before a health emergency strikes will make it much easier to step in and help when they need you most.
  • All adults experience some decline in their financial decision-making ability as part of the aging process, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. Even if your parents don’t develop dementia, they likely will need another set of eyes on their accounts to ensure they’re not making costly mistakes.

How to monitor your parents’ finances

Even if you recognize the need to keep tabs on your parents’ finances, the real challenge is getting them to let you. After all, Mom and Dad might consider their finances to be none of your business. There are some steps that you can take, though, that might help them see the value in sharing information about their finances with you.

Start by talking

Ideally, you should have conversations with your parents about their finances while they’re still relatively young and healthy. This will give them time to warm up to the idea of sharing information with you and give you time to gather details you need before there’s any sort of health or financial emergency.

The key is to use the right approach. Be aware that telling them you need to monitor their accounts for late payments because it’s an early indication of Alzheimer’s could backfire. The last thing they want is to feel like you’re constantly looking for signs that they’re starting to forget things.

Instead, approach the conversation from a place of love and respect. For example, you could use the pandemic as a jumping off point to express your concerns about their well-being and to ask what sort of emergency planning they’ve done. The key is to let them know you’re looking out for their best interests and that you want to gather some information in case they ever need help as they age.

For more tips on starting the conversation with your parents, grab a copy of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Don’t force your way in

Once you start talking to your parents about their finances, ask at what point they’d be comfortable letting you help them keep tabs on their accounts. Let them share what situations they think might merit your involvement. However, you could gently remind them that the more you know about their daily money matters, the easier it will be for you to help them if an emergency arises.

If they’re reluctant to discuss the possibility of letting you monitor their accounts, don’t issue ultimatums such as, “If you don’t do this, I won’t take care of you when you get older.” Your goal is to build trust—not to get into a power struggle. If your parents are still of sound mind, you have no grounds to insist on your involvement in their finances. The choice to let you get involved is theirs. Only if they’re having memory problems already and are at risk of making serious financial mistakes do you need to find ways to get more involved.

Take advantage of technology

Your parents might be willing to grant you view-only access to their accounts so you can act as a second set of eyes (while allowing them to maintain complete control over their accounts). However, not all financial institutions offer this option. And, to be honest, it can be a hassle to have to log into multiple accounts to keep tabs on your parents’ finances.

Fortunately, there’s a new app that makes monitoring your parents’ financial accounts easy. The Carefull app will monitor your parents’ accounts for possible late or missed payments, changes in spending patterns, unusual transactions and signs of fraud.

Not only will you get alerts if there’s a potential problem, but also the app offers guidance on what to do next. In fact, I partnered with Carefull to create the financial education tips and advice that it provides for users. The app also lets you create a circle of family members or trusted others so you can easily communicate and coordinate with them if you’re already involved with managing daily money matters for a parent.

I promise that it’s 100% trustworthy. The Carefull app uses bank-level security, doesn’t see or store account log-in credentials, and has view-only access to analyze transactions and send alerts. It can’t access your parents’ money at any time.

If you and your parents are interested in the Carefull app, you can get it for free for a limited time. Starting in March 2021, the service will be $12.99 a month. You’ll likely find that’s a small price to pay to catch financial mistakes before them become costly problems.