Some seniors have had compulsive shopping or shopaholic tendencies their whole lives. Just because they get older and have less discretionary income doesn’t mean that they will adjust to their new financial situation. Even seniors who weren’t big shoppers previously might spend recklessly in an attempt to relieve feelings of depression, boredom, grief and/or loneliness. Some feel they deserve to splurge, because they’ve been frugal all their lives, and they think that now they should be able to buy whatever they want.
Is It Retail Therapy?
As friends, family and abilities dwindle, retail therapy gives many people a short-lived mood boost. Online ordering, television shopping channels and mail-order catalogs make it so seniors don’t even have to leave home to over-use their credit and debit cards. Limited mobility and age-related health issues can make it harder for an older person to manage their behavior and hide the consequences. If a loved one who has previously been responsible with their money and kept their home free of clutter suddenly begins spending frivolously and accumulating purchases and other things, it may indicate a mental health issue, such as depression and/or cognitive decline.
Dementia also can play a role in excessive shopping. Your mom may actually need a new set of sheets but a memory lapse causes her to repeat the order several times. Deliveries arrive frequently, and unopened packages are strewn throughout the house. Impaired judgement and comprehension can also lead to unusual impulse purchases.
If no family members or friends are aware of a senior’s shopping habits, their financial situation can rapidly get out of control, possibly depleting their savings and acquiring significant debt. If advancing age or disease takes away some of a senior’s independence, they might try to make up for this loss in other areas. Like driving, spending can help them reclaim a sense of autonomy.
Some Businesses Exploit Seniors’ Weaknesses
Marketers know that older consumers tend to think of shopping as a pastime. They can be very persuasive in talking your loved one into buying things they don’t need or can’t use. They also know that seniors may not be as savvy when comparing prices and terms online and over the phone. They may think they are finding “deals,” even if the deal is something they don’t need.
For example, sellers of herbal supplements or “low cost” prescriptions often prey on seniors’ health and longevity concerns, advertising false promises of more energy, pain relief or even hair growth. The FDA does not regularly test what is in dietary supplements, and companies are not required to share information on the safety of a dietary supplement before they sell it.
Many seniors don’t realize that just because they see a dietary supplement in a catalog or on a store shelf doesn’t mean it is safe or that it does what the label says it will do. Remind your loved one that just because a supplement claims to do amazing things doesn’t mean it is safe or good for them. It might interact with a medicine their doctor prescribed, making it either weaker or stronger. The supplement could also be harmful for certain medical conditions. Point out that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Other things less reputable merchants might try to get the elderly to purchase include magazines, gold coins, stamps, products that are part of Ponzi or pyramid schemes, health food, small appliances, travel plans, expensive tools, useless insurance or other things they really can’t use anymore.
How Adult Children Can Help
Often, when adult children try to control their parents’ spending habits, Mom and Dad insist there is no problem. “It’s our money and we can spend it as we choose.” But if packages arrive daily at their home, it’s normal to worry, especially if bills are not being paid. If they don’t remember placing orders, your worry is even more justified.
Sometimes it’s best to bring in a third party to help handle the situation. Make an appointment with your loved one’s doctor for a cognitive assessment and an evaluation of their ability to carry out activities of daily living. If they aren’t comfortable with you coming into an appointment with them, then write a detailed note about any changes in memory, behavior, judgement and mood that you have noticed. Be sure the doctor receives it and reads it before the appointment. Dementia may not be the culprit, but the doctor can help rule out cognitive decline and screen for other possible causes, like depression.
A second opinion may be a good idea if you strongly suspect something is medically wrong with your loved one. If not, you may need to ask a friend, spiritual leader or financial advisor to talk with your loved one to help them set and follow a realistic budget. They may be more open to discussing their finances with someone outside the family whom they respect and feel comfortable talking with about personal matters. Also, they may be more likely to listen to and follow what this person recommends.
Other Ways to Cope
Shopping can become the means used to avoid coping with feelings and dealing with problems directly. In some cases, shopping addictions can be related to a substance abuse issue. If you believe a loved one is, struggling with substance abuse and a shopping addiction, it is time to get help. Research also finds a significant correlation between compulsive shopping and depression. Often a doctor will recommend anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications that can help.
Many elderly people feel bored, restless, and want something new. With 24-hour shopping channels and online marketplaces like Amazon.com, satisfaction is only a quick call or click away. Compulsive shopping is one way people of all ages spend their money in order to feel better, but the elderly can be particularly susceptible. As a caregiver, you may be faced with taking away credit cards, or insisting that you approve any online or over-the-phone purchases. Or you might be able to come up with some other activities to keep your loved one occupied, happier and diverted from the temptations of shopping.
If you need assistance supervising the activities of your loved one, a Dakota Home Care Aide can provide companionship and suggest safe and healthy ways for them to pass the time. Your aide can be there for as little as one hour or up to 24-hours-per-day. Call (701) 663-5373 today to schedule a free consultation.