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5 Early Dementia Signs That Show Up in Your Finances, New Report Finds

Georgetown University researchers found that symptoms can appear five years before diagnosis.

With dementia expected to affect 78 million people worldwide by 2030, it's vital to keep an eye out for any early warning signs. Before there are more obvious changes in language and communication, there are other notable indicators of this devastating disease. And, as it turns out, they may not show up exactly as you'd expect. In fact, a new report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York notes that early dementia signs can often be reflected in your finances.

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The report, which was published in May and led by Georgetown University, used 17 years of data from consumer credit agencies and Medicare databases. Following review, experts concluded that changes in finances can signal Alzheimer's disease and related disorders (ADRD) roughly five years before a formal diagnosis.

"Most memory disorders aren't diagnosed until symptoms are severe, yet, given the progressive nature of disease, cognitive decline usually starts many years prior," health economist and study lead researcher Carole Roan Gresenz, PhD, a professor at Georgetown's School of Health and McCourt School of Public Policy, said in a press release. "The earliest changes in cognition might not be noticeable by family members and friends, but may be quietly compromising financial decision-making."

One of the first warning signs of dementia was an increase in payment delinquency (a late or missed payment). Credit card delinquency was observed five years before diagnosis, while mortgage delinquency was observed three years before.

Two years ahead of diagnosis, increases in total delinquencies were up between 8 and 21 percent, and one year before diagnosis, they were up anywhere from 13 to 35 percent. Researchers noted that this might be due to forgetfulness, impaired decision-making abilities, or increased susceptibility to financial exploitation resulting from dementia.

According to researchers, debt accumulation was another sign, as credit cards and mortgages are "the primary components of debt among those 70 years and older."

Researchers predict that approximately 600,000 delinquencies on some form of debt will arise due to patients with "yet-to-be-diagnosed ADRD."

In addition, credit scores steadily declined before patients were diagnosed with dementia.

"Credit scores weaken and the probability of delinquency rises as individuals approach diagnosis. These patterns correspond to the increasing symptomatology that is typical with the disease given its progressive nature," the report reads.

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Three to five years before diagnosis, credit scores were an average of 1 to 2 points lower than baseline. Two years prior to diagnosis, scores were an average of 2.7 to 3.7 points lower, and one year prior, scores were an average of 4 to almost 6 points lower.

Another sign was the opening of one or more new credit accounts, as was using different forms of credit (credit mix).

"The results are striking in their clarity and consistency," Gresenz added in the press release. "The financial decline we observe mirrors the cognitive decline that these individuals are experiencing: credit scores consistently decline, quarter by quarter, and probability of delinquency consistently increases as diagnosis approaches."

Researchers stressed the importance of early diagnosis, as it can help decrease the probability of delinquency.

"A diagnosis alerts family members and loved ones that the affected individual is cognitively vulnerable and may require support with financial decision-making," researchers wrote. "Family members may not only provide oversight and ensure payment for existing debt, but also reduce credit account holding for affected family members. The latter may be particularly important as we observe no decline in credit card or mortgage delinquency after ADRD diagnosis among those who continue to hold such accounts."

Overall, these latest findings add support to the idea of using credit reporting data as a way to identify patients at risk of dementia.

"In addition to the human toll, a diagnosis of this type can be financially disruptive to families and exacerbated by the harmful financial effects of undiagnosed memory disorders," Gresenz said in the press release. "Our findings substantiate the possible utility of credit reporting data for facilitating early identification of those at risk for memory disorders."

We offer the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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