New Research Shows Dementia Creates Money Management Problems Years Before Diagnosis

A study released in late November 2020 took a closer look at a possible early symptom of dementia: poor financial management in the years before dementia is diagnosed.
money management

Dementia is a condition that causes memory loss and a decline in the way the brain functions. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. There are some early symptoms typically associated with dementia, including:

·   Confusion about time and place

·   Poor decision-making

·   Impulsiveness

·   Decreased problem-solving skills

·   Problems doing familiar tasks

A study released in late November 2020 took a closer look at another possible early symptom of dementia: poor financial management in the years before dementia is diagnosed.

Researchers for the study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, analyzed consumer credit report outcomes from 1999 to 2018 that were linked to Medicare claims data. The study included 81,364 Medicare beneficiaries who lived alone, meaning that they would likely be the ones in charge of money management at their home. Researchers focused on missed payments of 30 days or more on credit accounts and subprime credit scores of 620 or lower.

Dementia Linked With Poor Financial Management

The study found that Medicare beneficiaries diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia were more likely to miss payments on credit accounts starting six years before their diagnosis compared with demographically similar beneficiaries who did not have that diagnosis.

They also were more likely to develop subprime credit scores 2½ years before their diagnosis.

After diagnosis, patients with dementia still were more likely to miss payments and have a subprime credit score compared with those not diagnosed with dementia.

These financial events were more common in patients who had lower education levels.

“Some of these financial symptoms are popping up as early as six years before formal clinical diagnosis,” said study lead author Lauren Nicholas in a Washington Post article. Nicholas is with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health & Medicine in Baltimore. “That suggests that it actually does affect your life for a lot longer than we thought, and that even if we can’t slow the cognitive impacts, we can still protect you from some of the financial losses.”

In the Washington Post article, Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, said that the findings help confirm what many aging specialists have suspected. “We’ve always had this concern that people might be compromised with regard to their decision-making even before a formal diagnosis is made,” he said. The study shares “some hard data that indicated, yes, this is reality and it’s worrisome for these individuals.”

How to Stay Financially Safe

So, what does this mean if you are an older adult and you want to make sure your finances as well as your credit remain in order, even if you eventually have cognitive decline? Here are a few tips:

1. Consider giving a trusted family member access to sign off or manage your bank and financial accounts. They can provide a backup if you are having trouble managing your finances.

2. Ask your bank what they will do to notify you of unusual account activity. This could be a safeguard not only against scammers but also against any gaffes you might make unintentionally with your funds.

3. Make loved ones aware of other signs that you may have trouble managing your money, including:

·   Problems balancing a checkbook.

·   Forgetting where your cash is.

·   Problems paying for a purchase.

·   Having strange or excessive charges on your credit card bill.

4. Set up automatic bill payments. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask a tech-savvy family member to help. This helps you stay on track with regular bill payments—a convenience for anyone.

One final tip: Anyone can miss a bill payment from time to time. If that happens, don’t worry. However, if you or your loved ones start to notice a slipping in your ability to manage money along with some of the other early warning signs of dementia, schedule a doctor’s appointment for further evaluation.

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

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