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Marketplace

How undiagnosed Alzheimer’s can impact personal finances

Rose Conlon and David Brancaccio Oct 25, 2019
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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

People with Alzheimer’s disease often experience mild to moderate symptoms for years before they’re diagnosed. And because one of the first functional changes the progressive brain disorder causes is diminished ability to manage money, it can wreck havoc on patients’ personal finances. 

New research from Georgetown University links this period before diagnosis to negative financial outcomes. 

“You have this multi-year period where people are experience these symptoms, but families might not be aware,” said Carole Roan Gresenz, lead author of the study.

People with early-stage Alzheimer’s are at a higher risk of experiencing large reductions in liquid assets and net wealth. These losses can be the result of poor financial decision-making like failure to pay bills on time, overspending, and unwise investments. But those with the disease are also more vulnerable to economic exploitation by others. They’re more likely to become the victims of scams or elder financial abuse.

For families, the timing of the financial loss can be particularly devastating.

“What’s concerning about these findings is that these negative changes in financial outcomes are occurring just as these families are going to be faced with large and substantial costs of caregiving — when individuals enter the final stage of dementia and symptoms are severe,” Gresenz said.

To help prevent these kinds of losses, people can initiate conversations with elderly relatives, even if there’s no apparent signs of cognitive impairment — especially where there’s a family history of Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that those with a close family member who has been diagnosed with the disease are about 30% more likely to be diagnosed themselves.

“It’s good to make sure that things in terms of spending look like they’re on track, and are consistent with however that person was spending their money in the past,” Gresenz said.

She also points to the role financial institutions could play in preventing Alzheimer’s-related financial loss in the future. Her team is working on matching credit data with Medicare claims data to understand more about the specific financial vulnerabilities diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients are experiencing most.

You can find our reporting on how the aging brain might be more susceptible to financial scams here.

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