In a recent study from Johns Hopkins, researchers found people on Medicare who later receive a diagnosis of dementia are more likely to have unpaid bills as early as six years before a clinical diagnosis.
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. Subprime credit scores fall in the fair and lower range.
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.
In the study, the researchers linked de-identified Medicare claims and credit report data.
They analyzed information on 81,364 Medicare beneficiaries living in single-person households, with 54,062 never receiving a dementia diagnosis between 1999 and 2014 and 27,302 with a dementia diagnosis during the same period.
The team found that the elevated risk of payment delinquency with dementia accounted for 5.2% 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 study also found that beneficiaries diagnosed with dementia who had a lower educational status missed payments on bills beginning as early as seven years before a clinical diagnosis as compared to 2.5 years prior to a diagnosis for beneficiaries with higher educational status.
Dementia, which the study identifies as diagnostic code for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, 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.
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The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine. One author of the study is Lauren Hersch Nicholas.
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