Early dementia often has a surprising warning sign, report says: ‘Financial consequences’

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Dementia takes a costly toll on the families it affects — emotionally, physically and even financially.

In many cases, an impact on finances is one of the earliest signs of the disease, according to a new report from the New York Federal Reserve.

In analyzing 17 years of data from consumer credit agencies and Medicare databases, researchers found that a decline in credit scores and an increase in late payments are often seen in the five years prior to diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders (ADRD). 

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Those in the early stages of dementia may also accumulate greater debt, open new credit accounts and use multiple types of credit.

“Considering the typical progression of the disease, these findings point to financial consequences of the disease in its earliest stages, when symptoms are typically mild and not widely apparent,” the researchers wrote.

“The financial consequences of ADRD prior to diagnosis steadily increase over time.”

This is particularly concerning given that older adults with dementia will likely face substantial costs for caregiving and other related expenses, the report noted.

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Monica Moreno, senior director of care and support for the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, said the new report confirms what experts have already known — that challenges in managing money or personal finances are common early warning signs of dementia. 

“While there are several signs or symptoms of dementia, challenges with problem-solving or planning can cause a person to mismanage their finances,” Moreno, who was not involved with the New York Fed’s report, told Fox News Digital via email. 

“Other dementia-related symptoms, including decreased or poor judgment and difficulty completing familiar tasks, can also adversely affect money management or personal finances.”

“The individual may have stacks of unopened bills or may be spending an excessive amount of money.”

Early in the disease, people may struggle with more complicated tasks, like managing investments or making decisions about large purchases, Moreno noted. 

“Since dementia is often a progressive condition, these challenges will increase over time,” she said. “It is important for family members to identify these potential signs early and intervene as soon as possible.”

Common warning signs

Some common signs to look for include the inability to balance a checking account, or consistently late payments on credit cards or other monthly bills, Moreno said. 

“The individual may also have stacks of unopened bills or may be spending an excessive amount of money,” she said. 

People living with dementia are also more susceptible to financial abuse, identity theft, fraud or get-rich-quick schemes.

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“Failure to address these problems or potential threats can put individuals living with dementia at great financial risk,” Moreno warned.  

5 ways families can help

“If you feel a family member is showing signs of dementia, it’s important to share your concerns and talk to a health care professional,” said Moreno. “Early diagnosis of dementia offers the best opportunity to put financial safeguards in place.”

For those whose loved ones are having difficulty managing their finances, the Alzheimer’s Association shared the following tips and strategies with Fox News Digital.

1. Discuss with the person how a trusted family member or friend can help either with paying bills or setting up automatic billing to avoid late payments.

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2. Create a separate account where you can keep a small, agreed-upon amount of money that the person can use for recreational activities, meals with friends or other personal purchases.

3. Sign up to receive automatic notifications for withdrawals from bank accounts or large charges to credit cards. If you set a charge or spending limit and if the person spends more than that, the bank or credit card company will let you know.

4. Request electronic bank and credit card statements and watch for unusual purchases or changes in how the person typically spends money.

5. Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list at donotcall.gov to protect against telemarketing calls and potential phone scams.

It’s always best to have conversations about managing finances sooner rather than later, Moreno advised.

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“In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, people are more likely to understand the importance of these issues and suspicious activities to avoid,” she said.

“If you wait, these concepts will be more difficult to comprehend as your relatives’ memories and other executive functioning skills decline.”

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Fox News Digital reached out to the New York Federal Reserve researchers requesting comment.