Wallet Safety

Wallet Smarts That Preserve an Older Adult's Dignity and Security
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A loved one who lives with a family caregiver probably has little need to carry a wallet or pocketbook -- but that doesn't mean that many older adults don't want to continue the habit.

A purse or wallet, after all, is something he or she probably carried since the teenage years. Giving it up now feels like yet another loss and symbol of worthlessness to many older adults. Lack of documentation and money can create needless anxiety.

Understandably, you may worry about safety and security. Here's what helps:

Exchange a driver's license for an official ID. A license is a powerful source of identity, security, and importance. Seeing an empty space in the wallet where a driver's license used to rest is disconcerting. A solution: Take your loved one to get an identification card at a local DMV office. (In some states, you can do it online.) It's not a license to drive, though it looks similar to one.

Provide a little cash. Large amounts of money can get lost, given away, or spent on unnecessary items. But it's better for someone obsessed about having a wallet or purse to have the security of seeing a few bills in the billfold. Without visible cash, your loved one may experience a constant, low-grade anxiety that "all my money is gone," or "I'm broke." He or she may get on a jag of wanting you to go to the bank together to get some, to be reassured.

Get a credit card with a very low balance. You do want to remove your loved one's credit cards if financial responsibility has become problematic. One option is to replace a card with one that has a low limit that you can monitor. Some caregivers replace effective cards with outdated ones that no longer work; when their loved one tries to use it, they find out that it's denied and get upset in the moment, but then they often forget about it. Other people are content to see some cards in their wallets that look like credit cards -- library card, membership cards, plastic hotel room keys. Lacking the wherewithal to actually use them, someone with dementia, especially, will feel reassured by simply seeing something there that looks right "just in case." Experiment to see what works in your specific situation.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio