Rifle through the mail. Your loved one’s mail can offer an often-overlooked clue to how he or she is managing money, a common early warning sign of cognitive trouble.

Look for:

  • Snowdrifts of mail in various places. Finding lots of mail scattered around raises concern about how bills, insurance, and other matters are being managed (Piles of mail are also a potential tripping hazard).
  • Unopened personal mail. Everybody skips junk mail, but few of us can ignore a good old-fashioned, hand-addressed letter.
  • Unopened bills. This can indicate that your loved one is having difficulty managing finances—one of the most common first signs of dementia.
  • Letters from banks, creditors, or insurers. Routine business letters aren’t worrisome. But it’s alarming if they’re referring to overdue payments, overdrawn balances, recent accidents, or other concerning events.
  • Thank-you messages from charities. Older adults are often vulnerable to scammers. Even those who have always been fiscally prudent are vulnerable if they’re having trouble with thinking skills (a common sign of Alzheimer’s disease). Some charities hit up givers over and over, and your loved one may not remember having donating the first time.
  • Lots of crisp, unread magazines. The person may unknowingly have repeat-renewal subscriptions he or she doesn’t need.