Tag Archives: money issues and MCI/Early Alzheimer’s

2 Conversations With Ralph–one bittersweet, the other just bitter


When the kids were small, I always knew our best conversations happened in the car.dialogue.jpgStrapped in seatbelts the kids tended to open up more about their lives; now Ralph does the same. We were driving home from a visit to his dermatologist when he brought up an issue that has clearly been bothering him.

“My IQ score has dropped,” he announced out of the blue. “Is that normal?”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw it on my chart last visit.”

I don’t know how he saw this nugget of information (or even if he read it right), let alone remembered, but I realize that problems  he cannot sort out seem to get stuck in his brain, like gum on the bottom on his shoe that he can’t shake off.

“Well memory probably affects IQ results.”

“117 is still above average though right?”

“Right.” My heart ached with protective affection.


On the other hand, Ralph and I have always had our worst conversations at night when we are tired and Ralph has had some drinks.

dialogue two.jpg

So last night while I was trying to relax after a long day by watching mindless TV at the kitchen table, Ralph stormed out of the bedroom.

“What was the name of that real estate agent who tricked you into selling too cheap?”

I told him the names of the agents we used, one a friend of his. He grumbled some more and went back to bed, only to return moments later and begin to rant about how we were cheated and I should have known better.

He was talking about some property we sold in 2013, the year he got his diagnosis and was still half running things. He had chosen the agent and begun the negotiations pre-diagnosis; I had completed the deal post-diagnosis. Ralph and I had discussed the terms exhaustively. I didn’t want to sell the building at the time but he insisted.

Those months were among the worst in my life, a time I’d rather not remember myself, filled with my mother’s precipitously failing health, Ralph’s heightened, often angry anxiety over his diagnosis, our desperation to sell our business profitably, the sharp learning curve I had to master while laid up in a cast after I crushed my ankle falling on black ice. I did not necessarily make stellar business decisions, but frankly I handled it all pretty damn well considering.

In Ralph’s head last night, we had sold the property just weeks ago and he was obviously obsessing over the numbers (which he had wrong). As he began to berate me, I pretended to be absorbed in Saturday Night Live. In fact I was stewing in resentment and in memories of Ralph during the middle years of our marriage when I often felt he bullied me.

Then he switched gears.

“Where’s our money now? Who are those people who supposedly manage our investments? How do you know they are not going to take our money? You need to make sure they can’t steal our money.”

What I felt as he ranted was about as far from protective affection as you can get—hot white hate tinged with damp self-pity that I was stuck with him until one of us died.

This morning Ralph brought me coffee in bed, as sweet as could be. The conversation has erased itself from his brain as if it never occurred. I wish I could say the same, but I can’t.



*A side note: as we were entering the examining room, the nurse behind the desk said to another nearby, “The Alzheimer’s patient is here now.” I clearly heard and am sure Ralph did too, but neither of us brought it up, not even in the car.


Money on the Mind


Sex and Money. The two topics that generate curiosity but can be pretty uncomfortable to discuss in general, and in regard to Alzheimer’s especially. I admit I am not ready to talk about sex, but money? I’m not sure, but because I’m in the middle of doing taxes, money is on my mind.

How much do we have? Enough. We are lucky. (Around the time Ralph was diagnosed he decided to “retire” from his business managing rental property, much of which we owned. We—meaning I–sold most but not all of the property to create a nest egg while we live day to day off the reduced income from the rental property we still own.)

How much do we need?Frankly our needs are much less on a daily basis. We seldom eat out and we are not buying “stuff” any more. Our medical costs, including Ralph’s medicines for most of the year, are pretty much taken care of by Medicare and our supplemental insurance. Lately I have shelled out for some costly business expenses, emergency building repairs, that have eaten into our income and that’s been a little scary—a hint of how things could change on a dime.

What are the money issues to come?  Housing and medical care. I have written before about the value of long term care insurance. We fortunately purchased it before Ralph’s diagnosis. I am hoping that if/when Ralph’s condition requires outside care, the insurance will kick in. But I worry that the glut of baby-boomer like us may bankrupt the long-care insurance companies before I need help so I am storing away funds just in case.                                                                                                        And then there is housing. Despite Ralph’s current conviction that he will never leave, at some point the farm is not going to be viable, and I will have to decide when, not to mention where we go from here. Will we be able to sell or rent out the farm for enough to afford our next living situation(s)? I don’t know but frankly I am not ready to think about myself yet.

How well am I making financial decisions, alone, concerning our future?  The truth is that I tend to go for easy decisions. And there are decisions—about whether to spend money on a given repair, how to keep our savings safe without losing ground, how to plan for our future needs. Ralph used to discuss these topics endlessly and we still discuss them, but he doesn’t remember from conversation to conversation what we last decided. I try to think what Ralph would do, but then I also remember that I did not always agree with what Ralph did when he was in charge. (I resent the money we are still shelling out to support bad decisions Ralph made about ten years ago—around when his cognitive loss probably began.)                                                                                                                                                        The real answer here is that at my accountant’s suggestion, I turned to a fee-based financial planner who advises me holistically and is available whenever I call with a question on the smallest issue. In some ways that financial relationship is more intimate than any other.

Post Script:

Before I posted this I had to run an errand. On the way home I stopped at Starbucks where man in line behind me was acting a bit confused in a way I recognized; when his wife explained that he had Alzheimer’s, I said so did mine. We began talking like long-lost friends (we use the same doctor and support system at Emory and are at similar points in the progression). One of the things she discussed the unmanageable cost of  sending her husband to a day program while she was at her job.                                                                      When I got home  I found a response to my earlier post about driving and Alzheimer’s: A woman, who doesn’t drive herself, has realized her husband can no longer driver due to Alzheimer’s. How is she going to solve that situation? Public transportation? Taxis? Uber?       I am suddenly struck anew by the financial realities that Alzheimer’s poses for so many and by the need for our support systems to come to grips with the needs presented. I realize I need to contact our local Alzheimer’s Association to see what services are offered and to volunteer to solve the problem of gaps between needs and financial cost—not where I expected writing about money to take me but it has…..

Memory Loss and Money Matters

Yesterday I met with our new financial planner—Ralph would never have accepted the idea of a financial planner before now— and I was so anxious about the meeting that I left my laptop at the coffee shop where I’d just had lunch. Fortunately the coffee shop found my computer, and our retirement account is earning exactly the return the planner promised.

Money is not a subject I find comfortable to discuss. I have always been the artsy/intuitive, some in my family might say ditsy spouse. Even after I started working part-time in Ralph’s business office, using QuickBooks to make deposits, pay the bills and balance the books, I maintained the persona of Earth Mother not Business Woman. My domain was feelings; Ralph’s was the bottom line and money matters. (One important exception: using the example of my mother who used her coverage for her health aides, I successfully pressed Ralph to purchase long-term care insurance four years ago. Thank God.)
Since Ralph’s diagnosis, I have been thrust into the weird position of trying to think the way Ralph used to think about business and money. Well, that is not quite accurate because as I sort out our finances, I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the decisions he made.

Especially those he made in the last few years as his memory began to slip from his grasp. He had slacked off, clinging to outdated business habits and letting his assistant make more and more decisions. When she moved away and I became more actively involved at Ralph’s office, I saw the reality: while I worked ten hours a day, he came in at 11am and left at 3pm with an hour for lunch; he sat in his office reading magazines while I handled all the day-to-day matters. And yes, I was resentful to put it mildly. Still we continued to pretend he was in charge. He didn’t want to believe otherwise and frankly neither did I.

Then came the diagnosis of MCI/Early Alzheimer’s and suddenly there was no pretending we could go on as we had. We agreed that our longtime accountant and lawyer needed to know about Ralph’s condition early on. We quickly updated our wills and made sure that powers of attorney, including responsibility for health decisions, were in place.

As for Ralph’s business, the retirement that we had talked about, yet avoided for so long was now mandatory. Since Ralph’s business for the last 35 years had been managing rental properties he owned, selling the business meant selling individual properties one at a time, no simple matter.

As we began the process of talking to real estate agents and taking offers, it quickly became clear that Ralph couldn’t keep straight which real estate agent was which, which property was under contract, how much we should be asking, or how much was being offered. To tell the agents or buyers our situation would place us at a disadvantage, so I have found myself covering for him and acting as a kind of pseudo-go-between.

What has evolved is a kind of charade. The agents may not know officially about Ralph’s condition, but they have to sense something is odd. Ralph chats with them jovially, but I’m the one who responds to the offers. Ralph and I discuss the sales as if he is equally involved in the decision-making, but actually he cannot remember the details long enough to analyze them, so I make decisions with the help of our accountant and lawyer.

I have learned to be a tough bargainer, which I hate. I have learned to say no, which is incredibly difficult. I have learned to play on others’ sympathy, which has not been so difficult. Aging feminist that I am, I kind of like playing the helpless female.
And I have learned to manage our money, sometimes in ways that Ralph would not have accepted. While I have involved our son, another artsy type but with Ralph’s hardheaded business sense, in some meetings, ultimately I have made the tough decisions on my own. I had three closings in the space of six weeks. A fourth property is under contract now. I turned over some of our property to another management company that rented our office in the city. I now have an office at home.

Every day or so, sometimes three or four times within an hour, Ralph asks how much money we have in the bank. I tell him. Then he asks if we’ve paid off our mortgage. I tell him yes. Then he asks if we have enough to live on. I tell him yes again. Ralph, who used to walk and talk calculations down to the smallest fraction, doesn’t want to know details. He’s always satisfied with my answers. He trusts me completely.

Before MCI, I used to chafe at his controlling nature and complained that he didn’t trust my judgment. But the truth is, I was glad to shirk financial responsibility off on him. Now I have it, and it is lonely and scary, like so much of what being Ralph’s wife has become.