Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia provides many advantages, including access to treatment, the opportunity to participate in clinical trials and the chance to make healthy lifestyle changes that preserve cognitive function. There are also abundant social and emotional benefits—both for people with the disease and their loved ones. The takeaway? Being aware of early warning signs of memory loss can ensure that seniors’ unique needs are met.
According to researchers, though, one symptom is often overlooked: poor money management. Here’s a closer look into the issue, courtesy of a recent report from WKRC Local 12.
Why Money Management Matters
Memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time and place, problems with words in speaking and writing: these are among the more widely known signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, a shift in your aging loved one’s financial habits may also indicate an early stage of the disease. These changes could include anything from failing to pay bills to sending payments to the wrong place.
Says leading Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. Jason Karlawish of the phenomenon, “There’s something about financial transactions that are so sensitive to difficulties with thinking, concentration, paying attention, learning new information that they’re often the first things when you look back, where the signs were there before the repetitive questions, the repetitious stories, the burned dinner, etc.”
In other words, money management issues are a subtle sign of cognitive decline that could manifest years before other common symptoms.
Dr. Karlawish identified this shift as a diagnostic tool after he observed an influx of new patients who had made devastating financial mistakes. Still, we have the power to protect aging loved ones before they reach that point. “There’s no reason why these errors have to be discovered by walking into a room full of fire and smoke,” he says. “There should be far better alarms set-up, and even ways to predict people who might catch fire if you will.”
To that end, Dr. Karlawish is working with entrepreneurs and other industry professionals to counter the problem. “In some sense, the banking and financial services industries are on the front lines of screening for cognitive decline in America,” he continues.
Fortunately, software is now being used to track and alert customers and their trusted advocates about changes in financial behavior, such as the opening of unauthorized accounts and missing deposits. Catching these activities early can stop the problem before a lifetime's worth of savings are lost.
“It’s like an illness where they talk about early detection,” asserts financial account protection and monitoring service EverSafe co-founder Howard Tischler. “The same thing, you want to find out about this as early as possible because a lot of it starts small and it’s a downward spiral which will eventually take all of a person’s money.”
How You Can Help
Certainly, utilizing programs like EverSafe can help protect people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Adult children of older adults should also be on the lookout for early signs of financial decline. According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, these often include the following:
- Taking longer to complete everyday financial tasks, such as preparing bills for mailing, filling out a check register and filing income taxes
- Reduced attention to details in financial documents, including difficulty identifying overdue bills in need of attention, finding specific details in bank statements, and filling out columns of a check register
- Declines in everyday math, including difficulty with calculating returns on investments, figuring out tips, and making several calculations at once
- Decreased understanding of financial concepts, including health care concepts like “medical deductible” and terms in bank statements like “interest rate” and “minimum due”
- Difficulty identifying risks in financial opportunities, such as determining key risks in investment scenarios and understanding the risks of mail or telephone fraud
In addition to being vigilant about these changes, adult children of older adults can also encourage their parents to simplify their financial lives and reduce “money clutter.” For example, setting up automated bill payments can ensure that nothing is falling through the cracks.
If you do suspect that your parent needs support, online banking makes it easier than ever. That said, this convenience also increases the chances that your parent’s information ends up in the wrong hands—so practice caution.
Ultimately, when we talk about safeguarding the health and wellness of aging loved ones, financial wellbeing for seniors is a crucial component. Being aware of financial changes—and knowing what they could mean—is an invaluable protective measure. Likewise, consider that changes in a loved one's financial skills could mean it's time to ask their physician for an Alzheimer's screening.
Fortunately, if your aging loved one has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's, there are many resources available, including memory care. To schedule a tour or request information about Episcopal Church Home’s new Memory Care Center of Excellence, click here.