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Technological advances may lead to earlier onset of caregiver assistance

by Isabel Fawcett

There is a public perception that family caregivers only intervene to manage their parents' finances if chronic health issues such as Alzheimer's and dementia start to manifest. Sometimes, however, assistive care in managing elders' financial business may not stem from the elder's impaired cognitive functioning. There is a generation of elders that is technologically, though not necessarily cognitively, challenged.

I have never understood siblings who have daggers drawn over who assumes the financial assistive care honors for their elderly parents. I never sought such a dubious distinction.

My sibling, my mother (and I) often joke about how I originally flat-out, repeatedly rejected Mom's requests to provide her with such assistive care. After all, she said, she was getting older. That was many years ago, when Mom was in her late 70's.

It took me a solid two years after her initial request before I even took time to observe that Mom increasingly shunned financial management tasks she once performed like clockwork, and with great precision. After my Dad died many years earlier, Mom had been the premier checkbook balancing individual account holder. I certainly did not perceive myself to be Mom's caregiver back then.

Fast-forward a couple decades after Dad's death. Mom started hating going through the motions of her financial institution's automated voice system. The automated system was designed for use by the bank's account holders to reconcile checks cashed, deposits, withdrawals, and pending transactions. Life would never be the same again for Mom.

The technology was new, convoluted, non-intuitive and otherwise non-user-friendly for someone like Mom who hails from a non-automated generation. Inadvertent mistakes using the telephone keys led the customer to "live" customer service assistance. Whenever that happened, Mom became flustered and sometimes speechless at the lack of automated system logic.

To ease her technological anxiety, sometimes she would ask the clerk to "talk to her daughter," instead of her. Nice try.

If she chose to dial "0" to speak to a "live" banking representative and asked her usual check reconciliation questions, the "live representative" referred her back into the automated system. The bank's intent may have been to quickly transition its customers to use the automated system sooner rather than later. Nice business theory, though reality left much to be desired.

In Mom's generational cocoon, the automated message became indistinguishable from live banking support. The voice quality of the automated message sounded the same as a live voice. It was tough for Mom to keep pace with the new technology while trying to learn the system's logic and reconcile her financial business.

Was she talking to a live person? Was she talking to scripted automation?

It makes perfect sense to me that some elders in Mom's generation are not e-age savvy and will not cozy up to automated business systems. Adapting to technological advances takes time and requires a level of commitment.

Sometimes it is just a generational gap. Other times it may be an emerging reduced hearing issue for some elders absent any medically certified verification of the individual's cognitive decline. Other than the automated system issue, at that time Mom experienced no other independent living problems in her life.

Surely it wasn't the automated banking system. It was all the end-user's problem and fault. Mom got it. So did I, with minimal troubleshooting and direct observation. I felt and understood her frustration. What reasonable individual chooses to add automated system-induced stress to aging?

Elders and Banking Assistive Care

When I first started assisting Mom with the automated element of her banking, I did not assume the task for any medical or caregiving reasons. Neither did I have any reason to question Mom's cognition or intellect. I agreed because I easily identified with the underlying issue.

Did I mention that automatic teller machines (ATM's) were also overwhelming to my mother by virtue of then-advanced ATM technology? (I am smiling as I remember my own initial intimidation with computers in my 20's, some pc software and ATM's. Elders sometimes get a bad social rap, I believe.)

Automated banking systems never went away. Neither did my self-imposed financial assistive care duties. Mom never wanted anything to do with automated systems again, including re-filling her prescriptions. Checkmate.

I don't remember how long it's been since I started assisting Mom with her banking. Does it really even matter? Not to me, it doesn't. The assistive care task is just as fastidious as the day I first started helping her maneuver the convoluted automated banking options on speakerphone.

Caregiver's Pre-Condition

The only satisfaction I derive in performing this thankless task is that, since day one, I set a pre-condition to providing such assistive care support. I would never perform any of the logistics, including transactions, without Mom's presence and direct involvement, period.

That included having her sign off on all of her own checks. If I chose to endure the injury of adding another person's administrative banking tasks to my life, then, by golly, the other person's active involvement and sustained input would be required. Let's just both be miserable while we're at it.

Mom is now almost 85 years old. She remains actively involved in reviewing her financial statements and all banking transactions. I make sure of that. I am relieved to have thought of intuitively establishing the pre-condition. Mom never balked at my request that she remain involved in closely supervising her own finances. In fact, she continued her record-keeping using her own methodology.

The process is more overwhelming to Mom now that she is much older, which I would expect. In the world of technology alone, so much has changed. Same holds true in the world of financial institutions.

These days, she enjoys listening to automated messages on speakerphone, including her bank and pharmacy systems. That's as far as she is willing to go with automation- active octogenarian listening. The great news is that assistive banking support is one more thing we can discuss openly.

If she doesn't understand something, it is my responsibility to explain and show her hard-copy examples. Yes. In spite of electronic banking availability, I only print banking hard-copies to discuss with Mom. Is it any wonder? She already has been traumatized by the e-age.

I will not add insult to injury. I'm already injured, thank you very much.