This Could Be One of the First Signs You Have Dementia, Experts Say

Studies have found that this early sign of dementia could come years before diagnosis.

Dementia can have a slow onset, which means people often miss many of the early signs of the condition. The first symptoms of cognitive decline can be subtle to outsiders, but they can also have a significant impact on the person suffering from them. Research has shown that there's one early sign of dementia that's easy to miss and important to be on the lookout for. Read on to find out what often overlooked symptom you should pay attention to, and if you're worried about dementia, Doing This One Thing Twice a Day Lowers Your Dementia Risk, Study Says.

The first sign of dementia is often unusual financial behavior.

Older woman online shopping

Some of the common early signs of dementia, according to research, include odd spending habits, money mismanagement, forgetting large purchases, and missing payments. "It's not uncommon at all for us to hear that one of the first signs that families become aware of is around a person's financial dealings," vice president for care and support at the Alzheimer's Association Beth Kallmyer told The New York Times. Kallmyer explained that dementia can drain people of the "executive function" skills that help them manage money, such as planning, problem-solving, memory, and comprehending context.

Several studies have connected financial decision-making and the onset of dementia. One study published in 2019 in Health Economic found that people experiencing early-stage Alzheimer's were 27 percent more likely than cognitively healthy people to have a significant decline in their assets, including savings, checking, stocks, and bonds. And for more on your risk of developing dementia, If You Have This Blood Type, Your Dementia Risk Is High, Study Says.

Forgetting to pay bills is an especially common symptom.

older straight white couple paying bills

A study published in Nov. 2021 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA): Internal Medicine also examined the connection between financial behavior changes and dementia. Researchers found that people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias had more missed credit card payments as early as six years prior to diagnosis. These patients were also more likely to have lower-than-average credit scores two and a half years ahead of their diagnosis.

"We went into the study thinking we might be able to see these financial indicators. But we were sort of surprised and dismayed to find that you really could," co-author Lauren Hersch Nicholas, PhD, an associate professor of public health at the University of Colorado, told The New York Times. "That means it's sufficiently common because we're picking it up in a sample of 80,000 people."

The JAMA study found that even after diagnosis, patients continue to struggle with their financials. Post-diagnosis, people with dementia missed even more payments, and their credit scores continued to sink as compared to people without dementia. According to the study, these trends continued for at least three and a half years after diagnosis. And for more subtle signs you need to know, If You Notice This With Your Eyes, Get Your Thyroid Checked, Doctors Say.

It's important to pay attention to money struggles in older adults.

Senior man working at laptop

The National Institute on Aging, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), encourages loved ones of older adults to keep an eye out for signs of money struggles. Some common issues to look out for include "trouble counting change, paying for a purchase, calculating a tip, balancing a checkbook, or understanding a bank statement."

The agency also notes that the person may be anxious when discussing money. Other recurring signs are "unpaid and unopened bills, lots of new purchases on a credit card bill, strange new merchandise, [and] money missing from the person's bank account." And for more useful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Unfortunately, these signs have become even harder to spot over the past year.

Older woman with bills

It's easy for these early signs of dementia to go overlooked, Kallmyer told The New York Times, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that. "That financial decision-making safety net may have been weakened," co-author of the 2019 study Carole Roan Gresenz, PhD, interim dean at Georgetown University's School of Nursing and Health Studies, told the NYT. "We haven't been able to visit, and while technology can provide some help, it's not the same as sitting next to people and reviewing their checking account with them." And for more symptoms to pay attention to, If You See This on Your Nails, It Could Be a Tell-Tale Sign of Diabetes.

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