Forgot your wallet? Research Suggests Problems Managing Money an Early Sign of Alzheimer’s

Healthy Living

There are many warning signs that indicate early signs of Alzheimer’s, and it’s important that you know what to look for so you can be best equipped to protect yourself and your loved ones from this unforgiving disease. And research is suggesting that at the very early stages, money problems may signal Alzheimer’s, and may indicate that dementia is looming before you even receive a diagnosis.

Sure, we all forget where we put our wallet from time to time. Maybe we can’t find a receipt from earlier that day or we fail to recall if we paid a bill on time. It’s very normal and common to sometimes feel a bit forgetful especially where your finances are concerned. But a 2009 study in the print issue Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, cited research that showed a connection between poor money management skills and an impending Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

The study evaluated the behaviors of over 160 older individuals, 76 people with no memory issues and 87 people with mild memory problems but no symptoms of dementia. Remember that dementia is a term that refers to a severe decline in mental ability in everyday life and basic daily tasks. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, in fact it accounts for 60-80 percent of dementia cases.

Mild Cognitive Impairment Versus Dementia

It’s important to understand the distinction between mild memory issues and more significant memory loss that might indicate dementia. Forgetting your wallet once or failing to collect your change is mild memory loss. Forgetting how to balance a checkbook or losing the ability to recall basic financial knowledge is a more serious indication that something is wrong.

The study used a money management test as their barometer for financial knowledge and as a way to assess if money problems may signal Alzheimer’s.

The test was given at the beginning of the study and a follow up exam was given one year later. The test quizzed on topics ranging from counting coins to understanding a more complicated bank statement. And the findings are truly a wakeup call for people at risk of Alzheimer’s.

First of all, the study found that one year after the initial assessment, 25 of the 87 people with MCI had developed Alzheimer’s type dementia. We’re not mathematicians but after quickly crunching the numbers that’s showing that nearly 30% of the people with mild cognitive impairment ultimately developed Alzheimer’s. In addition, the results prove that of those people with MCI who developed dementia, their scores on the exam were lower initially and declined by 9 percent on checkbook management abilities, and six percent on overall financial knowledge and skills.

Not surprisingly, those who were mentally healthy at the beginning and follow up of the study showed no decline in their test results.

What Does this Tell Us About Early Signs of Alzheimer’s?

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

The National Institute on Aging notes that difficulty managing one’s money may actually be one of the first signs of dementia, and that while basic financial tasks may come easily at first, as the disease progresses it will become more of a challenge for patients with Alzheimer’s to manage basic money matters. In addition, those people may try to mask their money issues in an effort to maintain independence or because they are in denial about their worsening condition, so it’s important to pay close attention to the warning signs.

Money Problems may Signal Alzheimer’s

If someone has trouble counting money, paying bills on time or balancing their checkbook, it’s a warning sign, says NIH. They may also leave unopened bills or have money missing from their bank account.

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, it is still best to catch this disease as early as possible so you can treat the symptoms and maintain as much normalcy as possible in terms of mental functioning. And where financial matters are concerned, you may need to intervene to protect your loved one’s money if they are no longer able to properly manage their finances independently. It can be a difficult conversation to have and a tough step to take, but in the end, protecting the health and security of your friend or family member is what matters most. The more you know and the earlier you can identify early signs of Alzheimer’s, the better prepared you will be to deal with the diagnosis and everything that comes next.

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