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My Elderly Parents Are Making Poor Decisions (What To Do)

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It can be difficult for adult children to see their elderly parents make bad decisions. Especially with their money. Unfortunately, this can lead to them draining savings and retirement accounts, putting future security and care at risk.

What can you do if your aging parents are making poor decisions? The first step is to have a conversation with them. Try to find out why they are making these decisions. Break down the steps to help them make better choices. But if they are experiencing cognitive decline or suffering from stress and/or anxiety, speak to their physician about getting help.

While you may not be able to control everything your older parents do, it is important to be aware of any unusual activity and take the next steps to keep them as safe as possible.

By being proactive, you can help protect your parents’ lives and finances and ensure that they have the best possible future.

Is My Aging Parent Incompetent?

Yesterday, my sweet mom-in-law (who is 100 years old) called me because her electric jar opener wasn’t working.

When we went over the steps, we found out that she didn’t recognize there was a button that she had to push to make it work.

She has been using that very same jar opener for the past 25 years so the fact that she’s forgotten how to use it tells me there are some memory loss issues that have gotten much worse.

If you’re worried that your aging parent may be losing their competency, the best way to protect your parent’s safety is to keep an eye out for some of these common warning signs.

  • Are they having trouble keeping up with their bills or managing their medications?
  • Are they having difficulty driving, or are they getting lost more often when they leave the house?
  • Are they having trouble with activities of daily living, such as cooking, cleaning, bathing or other personal care matters?
  • Are they having trouble following directions or becoming confused more easily?
  • Are they forgetting important dates or to go to the grocery stores for food?

If you notice any of these changes, the first step is to talk to your parent about your concerns.

They may be resistant at first, but it’s important to have an open and honest conversation. It won’t be easy, I know.

But the bottom line is that if their cognitive abilities have declined to a point where they can injure themselves or others, then it’s time for the adult children to become the parent or the family caregiver to take charge.

In addition, it’s a good idea to have a family meeting about these issues as well. You also want to ensure that you have any legal document that you need in place before it’s too late.

Check our article on Legal Checklist For Aging Parents

And you will want to get a professional assessment from a health care professional like a doctor or geriatrician.

This can help to give you some peace of mind and ensure that your parent is getting the best possible care.

If your senior parent is incompetent, the best solution may be for a family caregiver to become their legal guardian.

If you’re a caregiver of an elderly person, it may become increasingly difficult to take care of them if you’re not their legal guardian. But becoming a guardian requires obtaining a declaration of incompetence. Although this is often in the elderly person’s best interests, it can be a complicated process.

What To Do When Elderly Parents Are Making Bad Decisions

It can be really difficult to tell your parents that they can’t make their own decisions any longer, at least not without some help.

Whether it’s financial decisions, health choices, or something else, it’s hard to see them struggle.

Also, there’s the issue that most elderly parents will fight you on this.

They want to feel independent and in control. It can be a real battle to get them to agree to any sort of help.

A few general tips that may help you are…

  • If your parents are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, understand that reasoning will not work. You may have to lie, change the environment and enter their frame of thinking. You can read more about these techniques and more here.
  • If your parents are just being stubborn or difficult and refuse to listen, there are some techniques you can use. Try to understand their frame of thought, accept the fact that they are adults and will have to live the consequences of their decisions and simply continue to talk (as unemotional as possible) about any bad decisions that you feel they are doing.
    Another article we wrote on dealing with stubborn parents may help.

Another problem are the laws and what rights they have and what the family may have concerning incompetency.

Legal standards for capacity are determined by state law. The specific requirements can vary, depending on the state and the type of capacity in question.

However, there are some things that you can do to help them get back on track. But first, you have to know what may be causing this lapse in judgement and decision making.

Why Do Some Elderly Adults Make Bad Decisions?

Knowing what may be causing this lapse in judgement can go a long way in what steps you take to help your elderly parents.

There are a number of reasons why some elderly adults make poor decisions.

Here are a few reasons:

1. They may be struggling with age-related cognitive decline or dementia, which can affect their judgment and decision-making skills.

2. They may be feeling overwhelmed or stressed out about their finances or even simple tasks. This can lead to them making poor choices in order to try and simplify things.

3. They may be trying to protect their independence and autonomy, and not wanting to rely on others for help with their finances or other matters.

4. They may have difficulty understanding complex documents or instructions. This can affect everything from their finances to their medical care.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is a debilitating condition that can rob people of their memories, their ability to think clearly, and their judgment. As a result, people with dementia often make poor choices.

If they’ve been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or another diagnosis that causes cognitive impairment or mental health issues, it’s important that the family and primary caregiver understand that these are progressive illnesses that greatly impact someone’s quality of life.


  • It may not be useful to speak to them about this situation since they may not be able to comprehend it.
  • It most likely will be that their condition will continue to deteriorate to the point where they may need a professional caregiver or other home care services.

Anxiety and Depression

If your parents are dealing with anxiety and/or depression, these mental health conditions can certainly lead to poor decision making.

Speaking with a psychiatrist and/or mental health counselor can help the situation.

Fearful and Stubborn

If your parents are facing losses in other areas of their independence then it just makes sense that they may be fearful of what’s happening to them and as a result resist it which may seem to you like they are being stubborn.

Although one of the most important things you can do is to talk to them openly and honestly about what you are noticing, it may not be possible But, it’s important to be respectful.

This is where a social worker or geriatric care manager can help.

Steps To Take To Help Parents Who Are Making Poor Financial Decisions

Talking to your parents about money and managing their finances is not easy but so much more necessary than many families realize.

The first time you broach the subject, emphasize that you are looking for only a high-level overview so that you can have more peace-of-mind that your parents will be well cared for. This initial conversation can then help set the groundwork for future discussions.

If you can speak to your parents about their problems with financial decision making, here are some steps that you can take to help them.

1. Talk to them about their goals and what they want to achieve with their money.

2. Help them create a budget and track their spending.

3. Educate them on financial topics such as investing, saving, and credit management.

There are a number of reasons why some elderly adults make poor decisions when it comes to money. Here are a few:

1. They may be struggling with age-related cognitive decline or dementia, which can affect their judgment and decision-making skills.

2. They may be feeling overwhelmed or stressed out about their finances. This can lead to them making poor choices in order to try and simplify things.

3. They may be trying to protect their independence and autonomy, and not wanting to rely on others for help with their finances.

4. If they don’t have a financial advisor, encourage them to speak to one.

5. Encourage them to seek professional help from a debt coach if they are in over their heads.

6. Help them stay organized and informed about their finances.

7. Check in on them regularly to make sure they are sticking to their budget and meeting their financial goals.

8. Offer emotional support and encouragement.

9. Be patient and understanding. It may take time for them to change their behavior.

It’s very important to speak to an elder law attorney and get the right legal advice about issues of estate planning, powers of attorney, etc.

You want to do this BEFORE an official diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Doing so afterwards can be a difficult process and more expensive.

How To Help Elderly Parents Making Bad Decisions About Their Own Health

Making poor medical decisions can greatly affect someone’s overall health.

As a loved one, you may be concerned about an elderly parent or relative who is not taking their health seriously.

What can you do to help them make better decisions?

1. Talk to your parent (if possible) about their health and why you are concerned.

2. Offer to accompany your parent to doctor appointments and be a support system. This can help them feel more comfortable asking questions and getting the information they need.

3. Help them keep track of medications and appointments. This can be especially helpful if your parent lives alone or is not able to keep track of everything themselves.

4. Stay involved in their life and check in on them regularly. This can help you spot any early warning signs of cognitive decline or dementia.

5. If needed, geriatric care managers can help you to communicate more effectively with your senior parent.

Still, I do recommend that the primary caregiver have all the legal documents in place just in case!

Speak to an elder law attorney about what types of documents are needed if you have to take over medical care issues for your parent.

Some Examples Of Bad Decisions Made By Senior Parents

Here are just a few examples of bad decisions that I remember my patients making.

While these are certainly not the only bad decisions that can be made, they provide a snapshot of some common problems.

Spending too much money – One patient’s children noticed that their parents had suddenly started spending a lot more money than usual.

They soon discovered that their parents had been withdrawing large sums of cash from their savings account and using it to go on expensive vacations.

This can be a huge problem, especially if the senior parent is living on a fixed income.

Not paying bills on time – Another patient’s children found out that their parents had not been paying their bills on time for months.

This can lead to late fees and penalties, and can also damage the parent’s credit score.

Investing in risky schemes – A third patient’s children found out that their parents had been investing in risky schemes, such as penny stocks.

This can lead to huge losses of money, especially if the stock market takes a downturn.

They fell for a scam – It unfortunately happens that some senior parents fall for a scam, usually involving money.

There’s not much that you can do to help them except to contact your local law enforcement or adult protective services agency to file a report.

If you have elderly parents who are making poor decisions, it’s important to step in and help them out.

By being proactive, you can help protect your parents from injury and/or costly mistakes.

What Part Of Our Brain Is Responsible For Making Decisions?

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making decisions. This area of the brain is located at the front of the brain, behind the forehead.

It is involved in planning and decision-making, as well as controlling impulses and emotions.

The ability to make good decisions also decreases with age. This is because the brain’s ability to process information and think abstractly declines as we get older.

Additionally, older adults may have more health problems that can interfere with their thinking and decision-making.

Many chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, can affect the brain and lead to declines in cognitive function.

As a result, it’s not surprising that older adults can sometimes make poor decisions.

Some Books That May Help You

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When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative

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Toolkit for Caregivers: Tips, Skills and Wisdom to Maximize Your Time Together

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When Reasoning No Longer Works: A Practical Guide for Caregivers Dealing with Dementia & Alzheimer’s Care

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