Problems Managing Money May Be an Early Sign of Dementia

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Charmaine and the staff at Senior Living Consultants



A common theme we often hear from family members is that they first noticed a problem with their parent’s memory when elderly loved ones began having difficulty managing their personal finances. These issues may be somewhat small such as not remembering to pay the bills on time or unable to balance the checkbook any more. However, bigger issues can arise such as reckless spending on big-ticket items (a new car that wasn’t needed) to being overly anxious about finances (accusing family members of stealing money).

Now according to some new research, supported by the National Institutes on Aging, people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias may start having trouble managing their finances several years before a formal diagnosis. Published online in JAMA Internal Medicine, the study is the first large-scale analysis of people’s ability to manage their money before and after receiving a diagnosis of dementia.


Significance of Study

The study indicates people with dementia had more missed credit card payments as early as 6 years before diagnosis. In addition, they were more likely to have lower credit scores 2 1/2 years before diagnosis. After a dementia diagnosis, people had even more missed payments and lower credit scores than people without dementia.

The study’s results are important because if family members began to notice some changes in their loved one’s ability to manage money they can intervene prior to problems becoming any worse. Furthermore, the results help show that the period when an older adult might be at risk of not being able to manage their finances may be longer than currently understood. The research also notes that improved support services and financial guidance may help people with dementia get available resources to help them maintain financial security and independence.


Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease/Dementia

In addition to trouble handling finances, other early signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgement leading to bad decisions
  • Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Repeating questions
  • Wondering and getting lost
  • Losing things or misplacing them in odd places
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Increased anxiety and/or aggression


Tips to Help

Older adults who are having trouble managing their finances are at an increased risk of being the victims of a scam. Even so-called friends and family members may take financial advantage of seniors which is a form of elder abuse.  Therefore, it is important to intervene sooner rather than later if you believe an older adult is having problems managing their money.

  • The right timing. Talk about finances when you are both relaxed and in a good mood. Don’t approach the subject in a stressful situation.
  • Take a direct approach. If you have a good relationship with your parents be direct and let them know you have some concerns about who will handle their finances if something unexpected should happen to them.
  • Offer help. Offer assistance with bill paying and other financial tasks. Older adults are reluctant to ask for help because they don’t want be a burden. They may be relieved to receive your offer of help.
  • Make sure legal documents are order. It is important that seniors have certain legal documents prepared. These include: Advanced Health Care Directives (which names a healthcare power of attorney); Financial Power of Attorney (POA); living trust, and last will and testament. Know the location of these documents as well as a parent’s military records/discharge papers, birth/marriage certificate, name of attorney/financial advisor, and insurance agent.



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