As the holiday season approaches, most adults are keeping fairly close tabs on their spending to ensure that the new year doesn’t arrive with unwelcome bills or added debt. Families of older adults may find that over time finances can become a burden some seniors have difficulty managing. New research has discovered that missed credit card or loan payments can be an early warning sign of dementia.
According to a recent CNN Health report, a study published this month in the JAMA found that patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia were more likely to have missed payments within the six years leading up to a diagnosis. The declining financial abilities of these patients resulted in a credit score drop two and a half years before diagnosis compared with patients without dementia.
The research is important as a screening tool for health care professionals and families. When financial management starts to slip among older adults who usually were on top of their bills, it can be a red flag that something more may be happening than normal signs of aging. If families aren’t aware of slipping financial acuity, older adults can become prey to scams and fraud.
More educated seniors in the study didn’t start missing payments until two and a half years prior to a dementia diagnosis. Older adults with lower levels of education started missing payments up to seven years before their diagnosis. Researchers suggest that this disparity between more and less educated seniors and their financial literacy could be related to a greater incidence of multiple chronic health problems among patients with less education. Those with a higher level of education are more likely to have access to timely and good health care than patients with a lower level of education.
Although there has yet to be a cure found for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, early diagnosis can help seniors get treatment sooner. Families can act before financial mismanagement becomes devastating. Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 5.8 million Americans over the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association and with the rapidly growing senior population, that number is expected to reach 13.8 million by 2050.