Many older people’s finances decline in years before dementia diagnosis

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Recent research reveals a concerning correlation between older Americans and an unnoticed decline in financial health, linked closely with the undisclosed onset of dementia.

It appears that a marked reduction in wealth for seniors starts years before a conclusive diagnosis of dementia is established.

The Discovery: A Decline in Wealth

The study, detailed in the journal JAMA Neurology, illuminates the substantial disparity in financial health between those diagnosed with dementia and those maintaining mental acuity.

The median household net worth of seniors studied saw a decrease of more than half in the eight years leading up to their dementia diagnosis, contrasting significantly with individuals who remained mentally sound.

Jing Li, leading the research team from the University of Washington in Seattle, remarked, “Household wealth, especially financial wealth, declined much faster among people with probable [undiagnosed] dementia than [healthy] controls during the decade before dementia onset.”

The Study and Its Findings: A Closer Look

The examination of financial vulnerability amid cognitive decline stemmed from observing 20 years of data from the Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing project monitoring Americans 50 years of age and older and their spouses.

By comparing medical records and financial status, researchers discerned a pattern of financial decline in participants with a likelihood and later confirmation of dementia.

Remarkably, eight years before a formal dementia diagnosis, there was a negligible difference in median net worth between those likely to develop dementia and those who retained mental health—amounting to a little over $217,000 and nearly $211,000, respectively.

However, as dementia onset approached, those likely to be diagnosed saw their average net worth plummet by over half to just above $104,000, while those unaffected experienced only a slight decline to an average of more than $187,000.

Moreover, those affected by probable dementia were likely to witness a drastic reduction in their liquid assets, from a median of around $25,000 eight years before a dementia diagnosis to a mere $5,418 at the time dementia set in. Simultaneously, those unaffected by dementia saw a rise in their liquid assets.

Additionally, a noteworthy discovery was that only 50.2% of those with probable dementia were homeowners, compared to 62.2% of individuals unaffected by dementia.

The Possible Reasons: Unraveling the Why

While the study did not conclusively determine why hidden dementia corresponds to such a substantial financial drain, it is postulated that it could be indicative of a decline in financial capability associated with cognitive deterioration, possibly making seniors more susceptible to fraud.

Alternatively, the depletion of assets could be a necessity for individuals, a means to cover mounting medical and long-term care expenses, or a method to qualify for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care.

Regardless, the researchers stressed the need for further exploration into the precise reasons behind such financial declines.

Conclusion: Addressing a Silent Issue

This research sheds light on the silent but substantial financial toll that undiagnosed dementia takes on older individuals, emphasizing the need for a closer examination of the financial trajectories of seniors and the development of strategies to shield them from unnecessary financial hardship.

Addressing this silent issue is crucial to ensuring the well-being and financial security of seniors, especially those battling the unseen and unspoken consequences of dementia.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about inflammation that may actually slow down cognitive decline in older people, and low vitamin D may speed up cognitive decline.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about common exercises that could protect against cognitive decline, and results showing that this MIND diet may protect your cognitive function, prevent dementia.

The research findings can be found in the Archives of Neurology.

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