Money Problems May Signal Alzheimer's

Cecily O'Connor

Problems handling financial transactions may foreshadow Alzheimer's disease in some aging adults, a new study found.

In Alzheimer's, plaque shrouds nerve endings in the brain. (AA Image)

About 35 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer's and dementia. While there are many different signs that can lead to memory loss diagnosis - including misplacing or confusing things, the study suggests that in the early stages of Alzheimer's, patients may struggle with basic money matters, such as paying bills. 

“Our findings show that declining money management skills are detectable in patients with mild cognitive impairment in the year prior to developing Alzheimer’s disease,” said study senior author Daniel Marson of the Department of Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The number of older adults with Alzheimer's disease is rising by more than 1.5 million a year, highlighting the need for greater awareness and support for boomer caregivers tending to elderly parents. Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, eventually killing its victims. Early detection can help delay onset of the disease.

The report centered on 87 older people with mild memory problems but no symptoms of dementia. It also focused on 76 older people with no memory problems.

The participants were given a money management test at the beginning of the study, and then again after one year. The test included tasks of counting coins, making grocery purchases, understanding and using a checkbook, understanding and using a bank statement, preparing bills for mailing and detecting fraud situations.

After one year, 25 of the 87 people who had mild impairment earlier had developed Alzheimer’s. During the same period, the scores of those who developed dementia dropped by 9 percent on checkbook management abilities and 6 percent on overall financial knowledge and skills..

Marson suggested in the paper that doctors proactively monitor people with mild impairment for declining financial skills, and advise them and their caregivers about the warning signs.

Caregiver Tips
Caregivers should consider overseeing a person’s checking transactions, contacting the person’s bank to find money issues such as bills being paid twice, or become cosigners on the checking account so that both signatures are required for checks written above a certain amount.

"Online banking and bill payment services are also good options," Marson said.

The Family Caregiver Alliance also has caregiver tips for talking with Alzheimer's patients and handling difficult behavior. For example, some older adults may feel that money is "missing," so the caregiver can allow them to keep small amounts of money in a pocket or purse for easy inspection.

The study, supported by the National Institute on Aging, was published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.