April 15, 2021
First, Money Woes. 6 Years Later, Dementia
My 85-year-old mother is on top of her bills. She pays several of them online, which is impressive enough, and she knows which bill is due when.
So, we should both take some comfort in the fact that she is not having difficulty managing her money, which is an early sign of dementia.
The connection between poor money management and declining cognitive capacity was established in research years ago. An obvious next question – when does this early warning system kick in? – is answered in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers followed more than 81,000 men on Medicare for more than a decade and linked their medical records to their Equifax credit reports. The men who would eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia started missing the due dates on their bills about six years before the diagnosis.
There are many reasons for the gap between signs of trouble and an actual diagnosis. If family don’t detect a decline in cognitive ability, they won’t ask a doctor to administer a dementia test. Family might confuse early-stage dementia with memory loss, which is a natural part of aging. One financial manager said some of her clients try to hide that they’re having trouble handling their finances – or “do not want to admit the problem to themselves.”
If dementia goes undiagnosed, the financial problems get worse. A second finding in the study was that about 2½ years prior to a dementia diagnosis, retirees’ credit scores were much more likely to slip to subprime levels, or below 620 points.
About a third of the men developed Alzheimer’s or dementia, but they were responsible for more than half of the delinquent bills. The financial fallout from dementia was worse for single and low-income retirees.
Family members don’t have any control over whether a parent or great uncle develops dementia. But they may be able to use this information to understand more about their loved ones and to prevent mistakes.
Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.