Early warning sign of dementia could show in how you handle your money, according to new study

Health experts have spoken about the symptoms of dementia
Health experts have spoken about the symptoms of dementia -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

An early sign of dementia could show up in the way you manage your finances, according to a new study.

New research shows that difficulties with handling money can be one of the first indications of the condition. Dementia is an overall term for a collection of symptoms for diseases including Alzheimer’s that are caused by abnormal brain changes.

The Alzheimer’s Association states: “Dementia symptoms trigger a decline in thinking skills, also known as cognitive abilities, severe enough to impair daily life and independent function. They also affect behaviour, feelings and relationships.”

A new study has found that by looking at behaviour during banking and taking it alongside standard clinical indicators in overall health, 71% of people could be identified with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia four years earlier. “The years before a dementia diagnosis may be an acutely vulnerable period for individuals, leading to poor financial decisions,” stated the paper written by Prof Cal Muckley and his colleagues at UCD College of Business.

“We test if the information content of older persons' incipient money management difficulties can help identify vulnerable individuals with early-stage dementia. We show that clinically informed lead indicators of dementia, extended to include money management difficulties, can inform a high-performance AI model to predict a clinical diagnosis.

"Invariant to extensive robustness tests, after age, money management difficulties is consistently ranked the most important lead indicator of dementia.” He also told HuffPost UK: “Our work shows that money management difficulties comprise invaluable information regarding early-stage dementia.

“It is well recognised that early-stage dementia typically goes unnoticed by the individual and their family members. We show that money management difficulties should be taken seriously as a lead indicator of dementia, especially if stressful experiences such as bankruptcy, bereavement, and divorce, which might explain money management difficulty, can be ruled out.”

Meanwhile, a previous study showed that willingness to give away money may be linked to dementia. Gali H. Weissberger, senior lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences at Barllan University in Israel, was the first author of the study where participants were assessed by being put in a scenario where they had to decide about giving or keeping actual money.

The 67 adults involved also underwent a series of cognitive tests, such as word and story recall. For the laboratory task, volunteers were told they’d been paired with an anonymous person who completed the task online and they were thereafter asked to decide whether to give money to the anonymous person or keep it for themselves, reports the Mirror.

The volunteers were given $10 and instructed to allocate it however they wished, in $1 increments, between themselves and the anonymous person. It emerged that those who scored worse on the cognitive tests were more likely to give away money. These cognitive tests are typically used to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in the initial stages.

According to the NHS, different types of dementia can affect people differently, and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way. However, there are some common early symptoms that may appear some time before a diagnosis of dementia. These include:

  • memory loss

  • difficulty concentrating

  • finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping

  • struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word

  • being confused about time and place

  • mood changes

"These symptoms are often mild and may get worse only very gradually," the NHS says. "It's often termed 'mild cognitive impairment' (MCI) as the symptoms are not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia."