Thank you for enquiring after my Mother.
I visited her at Christmas, as you know, and was very concerned by what I found while I was there. Indeed the only reason I hadn't yet contacted you was that I am still wading through some of the more difficult issues I encountered there, to do with her finances, and haven't yet come up for air. I am myself suffering from some chronic fatigue problems, which have slowed me down somewhat. In fact there's many a day where dealing with a telephone conversation from Mum alone sends me back to bed for a few hours.
At Christmas, I found the following:
1) She had not shopped for herself and had to share my veggie Christmas dinner
2) She was unable to tell what day it was on several occasions, constantly reading out TV programmes days later or days before
3) I found a vase that she had accused my Sister of stealing on display on her mantelpiece. I was myself accused of never saying or doing anything nice for her within memory.
4) I found many food items in her fridge that were well-past their sell-by date, some dated to be eaten by as early as August 05
5) Numerically, she's was very unsound: unable to tell which number is bigger out of two, or which should be next
Ultimately, of course, it's her finances that caused me the most concern when I finally came to look at them. Last Summer, as you may remember, I discovered that she'd been over-spending for some considerable time and that her out-goings were often as much as triple her in-comings. At that time, I gave her a severe warning about her spending and took her to her banks and had her cancel some of her standing orders and direct debits to charities and to defunct or duplicate insurance policies. Well, despite constant protestations over the phone to me since, it seems that her behaviour didn't change and, if anything, she gave MORE away to charity than before - this time in cheques. At Christmas, I confronted Mum again over this and she was momentarily horrified, but I believe she simply doesn't understand what she has to spend and what she HAS spent. Since my return she has INSISTED that she tears up every charity letter and doesn't respond any more, but then in mid-anecdote I'll catch her saying that she asked the Warden to post some envelopes for her which will turn out to be another slew of donations (minimum £50 each). The last time we spoke on the issue it just happened that there were some donations on her table, ready to go, totalling another £250.
Mum has the dangerous illusion that she can cope with her finances. When I've had to go through her position again after some mistake, she'll often ring me back later having "sorted it all out" with her bank manager. The fact is she can't remember what it is that I was talking to her about or, indeed, what she discussed with the man from the bank, so what she's done is usually wrong or difficult to undo. There was one day when she announced that she'd dealt with her problems because the 'excess' in her current account was now in an ISA. I had to investigate to find out that the 'excess' she referred to was her balance and that she was about to go into the red again. "How CAN I be spending more than I have coming in?" she asked me, triumphantly, "How CAN I spend money I don't have?" The reason, of course, is that she tops up her current account from her savings continually (£15,000 in the last year at least). Recently, she found a statement from 2 years ago that told her that one savings account had £65,000 remaining in it, and she read it out to me gleefully. I had to tell her that the account she was talking about has only £170 left in it now, and had to make her think about what year we are in and what year it said on the statement.
I've found repeated identical payments in Mum's accounts. Mum is unable to tell bills apart from other documents and I think she's responded to many of her Direct Debit account notices as bills and thus paid by cheque the amounts that were subsequently withdrawn electronically. The last one of these that I had to clear up turned out to be for the company that provides the Warden service at Mum's flat. They cheerfully acknowledged that they had been aware of the double-payment in September and I had them refund Mum in February. I wonder how long they were intending to hold onto it - it may be that there have been more in the past!
I could go on and on about the financial problems, but I think you can see some of what I've been slowly sifting through. In a nutshell, my problem is as follows. Mum has a monthly income of around £1,600. After Council Tax, heating costs and a few direct debits, she has around £1,200 per month to do with as she wishes. She spends about £350 in the local supermarket and £100 in the chemist. She then tends to write about £2,000 of cheques. It's as simple as that, really. I'd rather she spent more on food, if anything.
I include the following only as an example of Mum's memory problems:
I took a week's holiday at the end of January to visit a friend in the South of France. Mum had been well-aware of my preparations for the trip, but when I mentioned it a week before my departure (and reminded Mum of the dates I'd be away), I found that my phone stopped ringing for a few days. When I called after 3 days, she was incredulous - "I didn't think you'd be back so soon!"
On the eve of my departure, while discussing one of her recent mistakes with her account, she got a bit peeved with me and obviously wanted to end the conversation. She said:
"Oh well, I'd better let you go so that you can get back to settling in after your holiday"
"Mum, I haven't been anywhere yet"
"Oh yes, you cancelled it , didn't you? I was awfully sorry you did that!"
"No, Mum. I haven't cancelled anything."
"Oh, I thought... I thought you were going on a Wednesday"
"That's right, Mum, and today is Tuesday, isn't it? I'm going tomorrow"
"And when are you back?"
"In a week's time"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were away for 3 weeks"
I sent Mum a letter detailing the dates I'd be away and giving her contact phone numbers. On my return, she didn't seem too surprised to be hearing from me, which was encouraging. Then, Mum rang me that evening for me to help her with her remote control - It took about an hour to sort out what she was doing wrong and by the end she was obviously embarrassed, because she tried to change the subject with:
"....anyway, I'll let you get back to settling in after your 3 weeks away."
"Mum, I wasn't away for 3 weeks"
"Oh, that's right, you didn't go anywhere in the end, did you?"
"No, Mum, that's not right"
"Oh yes, you just went for one day - how was it?"
"Mum, I was away for a week. Didn't you get my letter telling you about the dates I'd be away"
"Oh yes, I DID so much enjoy reading it - it was so beautifully written, I thought".
I apologise for the length of this email, and if some of it strikes you as irrelevant. I just wanted you to have a flavour of what's going on and some of the difficulties I'm facing with Mum, who doesn't seem to appreciate the danger she's in, or retain very long any concern that I try and instil in her. I hate coming across as a bully with her, but she terrifies me sometimes. She is incredibly naive about the world out there, about the marketing companies employed by charities to boost donations, about the dangers of blurting out your PIN number.... She leaves her handbag hanging from her supermarket trolley and walks home, she leaves her shopping at the checkout... the list is very long.
I would very much like to discuss with you any ways that you think we can make Mum's life less complicated (and thus my own!), and any ways we can restrict her spending, or make it more obvious to her what she's doing. She's living a blissful life in her head as a gracious and generous lady, but all I can see is that she'll have to sell her home in a few years and come to live with me. I understand that 'Power of Attorney' would help me talk on Mum's behalf to some organisations, but would it be possible for me to get online access to my Mum's accounts so that I can periodically check that she's behaving and question her about cheques? Can we take away her chequebooks (she can use her chip & pin for transactions but won't be able to write £100 cheques)? Are there any other ways we can simplify things, from your experience?
I am considering writing to her Doctor, as well, to ask about home helps and whatever other support she might be entitled to. I am aware that she pays a cleaning lady to come in each week, but I was not impressed with the standard of cleaning at Christmas and would prefer someone who went through her fridge frequently, or maybe helped her shop. I've noticed my Mum's 'panicked' look when we've shopped together - when we're together she'll often mirror what I'm buying as if she doesn't recognise what things are.
I believe that on some level Mum is aware of her own mental decline but she's INCREDIBLY prickly about it, and has on occasion mentioned her fear that giving up any sort of control might see her "put in a home". I try and reassure her that I don't think she's in that position and may never be. I try and tell her that some memory problems are natural for her age (she's always been terrified of Alzheimer's). I do need to do something, soon, though, just to try and stabilise her over-spending. If she can prove to me that she can go through a month and spend less than she has coming in, I might relax enough to start worrying about my own problems!