2021 Summer GAPNA Newsletter Volume 40 Number 2

Dementia May Cause Problems with Money Management Years Before Diagnosis

People with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias may start having trouble managing their finances several years before their diagnosis, according to new research. The study is the first large-scale analysis of people’s ability to manage their money before and after a dementia diagnosis.

Common symptoms of dementia, including memory and cognitive limitations, can lead people with dementia to have trouble handling money and paying bills, so repeated financial mistakes can be an early sign of the disease.

The new study linked Medicare claims data to credit card payments and credit reports to examine dementia-related money problems. Researchers analyzed information from 1999-2018 on more than 81,000 Medicare beneficiaries, about a third of whom were diagnosed with dementia within this period.

All study participants were at least 65 years old and lived alone. The researchers studied the number of missed credit card payments and credit scores for 7 years before and 4 years after a dementia diagnosis and compared this information against data from people without dementia.

Researchers found people who had dementia had more missed credit card payments as early as 6 years before their diagnosis and were more likely to have lower-than-average credit scores 2.5 years before their diagnosis.

After diagnosis, people with dementia had even more missed payments and lower credit scores than people without dementia, and this trend continued for at least 3.5 years after diagnosis. Results also showed that among people with dementia, those who had lower levels of education had increases in missed payments 7 years before diagnosis, while people who had higher education levels had increases in missed payments only 2.5 years before diagnosis.

This difference confirms previous findings suggesting people with higher education levels can have less severe dementia symptoms.

The study’s results indicate the period during which an older adult might be at risk of financial mismanagement and scams may be longer than currently understood and point to the need for early diagnostic tools and policies to help protect older adults.

The researchers also noted improved support services and financial guidance could help people with dementia and their caregivers get the resources they need to maintain their financial security and independence.