Countless loving American families live far apart. That’s one more reason why the holidays are a special time for family gatherings.

While the holidays typically conjure thoughts of celebrations, delicious food and gift giving, spending quality time with senior members can also be educational. Even alarming at times. Specifically, togetherness can reveal signs that older loved ones’ financial decision-making abilities may be declining.

Sometimes it can appear somewhat benign. They might volunteer that they helped a friend or caretaker pay an outstanding bill. Maybe it’s a garage full of unopened boxes from a school charity fundraiser or QVC.

Or, it might turn more alarming. Perhaps their checking account balance doesn’t seem to be what it should. In which case it would be appropriate to ask whether a major purchase had been made. A new car? Or a major home repair?

Maybe they’ve started talking about winning the lottery. Or, possibly buying a townhome for a relative so they can live nearby.

According to Peter A. Lichtenberg, Director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University in Detroit, “You don’t have to reach the level of dementia before your financial decision-making is impacted.”

Of course, you never want to put your senior member on the spot, much less make them feel awkward. However, it is important to initiate at some point a non-threatening conversation about their financial goals and challenges.

It helps to prepare a list of questions in advance. For example, you might ask, “Does this decision jeopardize your financial well-being?” “Are you benefiting from this financial decision, or is someone else? If someone else, who?” And, “Did you talk to anyone in advance about this decision?”

This vital conversation serves as both a starting point and baseline of their current financial reasoning.

We often think of financial stress during the holidays as spending too much on gifts and entertainment. However, stress can skyrocket after a prolonged visit with parents if we start sensing that things may be awry, especially on the financial front.

It’s preferable to have these sensitive conversations in advance and among family members. That makes it easier to decide how much seniors can and should budget for “discretionary” items, be they caregiver gifts, loans to grandchildren, expenses for new tires, and more.

A safe and loving environment in which to discuss these matters will help promote transparency as well.

At Senior Safe and Sound, we are working hard to help families protect their loved ones. If you need more support or information, contact us at or 858-480-7551.

This information is intended to inform the public at large about this important issue. It is not intended to serve as legal or medical advice.