Giving away money to unknown people could signal dementia, Alzheimer’s disease

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Scientists from the University of Southern California found the way a senior handles his or her money offer clues about their risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

They found a higher likelihood to give away money to anonymous people correlated with poorer performance on the kinds of tests that screen for dementia.

The study did not, however, assess the mental state of seniors who might decide to more freely donate to a recognized charitable cause.

The research is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and was conducted by Gali Weissberger et al.

In the study, the team examined 67 older people with an average age of 69. None of the participants had a diagnosis of dementia or any form of mental health decline.

All were given $10 to spend, and then paired up with an anonymous person in an online setting.

That money could then be split up as each participant wished—either to be kept or given away—with allocations made in single dollar amounts.

In turn, all participants completed standard thinking tests—such as story and word recall tasks—designed to spot signs of early-stage Alzheimer’s.

The team found that those who gave away the most money to someone they didn’t know fared the worst on the tests.

The findings are consistent with other evidence suggesting that poor decision-making and trouble handling money may be a very early sign of impending Alzheimer’s disease.

Spotting a possible link between an increased desire to give away money and heightened Alzheimer’s risk could prove useful.

It could help doctors and caregivers better screen for the sort of telltale behavior that indicates both a developing health issue and an increased vulnerability to financial scams and exploitation.

The team says more tests will be needed with a larger group of participants, to get a more definitive sense of how strong the connection is between bad financial choices and Alzheimer’s.

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