These financial ‘symptoms’ can be very early signs of dementia

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In a new study, researchers found that Medicare beneficiaries who go on to be diagnosed with dementia are more likely to miss payments on bills as early as six years before a clinical diagnosis.

They also found that beneficiaries diagnosed with dementia who had a lower educational status missed payments on bills beginning as early as 7 years before a diagnosis as compared to 2.5 years prior to a diagnosis for beneficiaries with higher educational status.

They also found that these missed payments and other adverse financial outcomes lead to an increased risk of developing subprime credit scores starting 2.5 years before a dementia diagnosis.

The findings suggest that financial symptoms such as missing payments on routine bills could be used as early predictors of dementia and highlight the benefits of earlier detection.

The research was conducted by a team at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and elsewhere.

Dementia, identified as diagnostic codes for Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias in the study, is a progressive brain disorder that slowly diminishes memory and cognitive skills and limits the ability to carry out basic daily activities, including managing personal finances.

About 14.7% of American adults over the age of 70 are diagnosed with the disease. The onset of dementia can lead to costly financial errors, irregular bill payments, and increased susceptibility to financial fraud.

Currently, there are no effective treatments to delay or reverse symptoms of dementia.

However, earlier screening and detection, combined with information about the risk of irreversible financial events, like foreclosure and repossession, are important to protect the financial well-being of the patient and their families.

In the study, the team analyzed information on 81,364 Medicare beneficiaries living in single-person households.

They found that the increased risk of payment delinquency with dementia accounted for 5.2 percent of delinquencies among those six years prior to diagnosis, reaching a maximum of 17.9% nine months after diagnosis.

Rates of elevated payment delinquency and subprime credit risk persisted for up to 3.5 years after beneficiaries received dementia diagnoses, suggesting an ongoing need for assistance managing money.

The team says dementia was the only medical condition where they saw consistent financial symptoms, especially the long period of deteriorating outcomes before clinical recognition.

This study is the first to provide evidence of the medical adage that the first place to look for dementia is in the checkbook.

One author of the study is Lauren Hersch Nicholas, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.

The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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