Friday, October 23, 2009

Declining Money Management Skills May Be Sign of Impending Alzheimer’s

If you’re 30 years old and having trouble managing your finances, it could be a sign you need to rethink your budget and perhaps seek professional guidance to get back on track and strengthen your financial skills. On the other hand, if you’re 65 and suffer from mild memory problems, a decline in your money management skills could signal progression toward Alzheimer’s disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Alabama in Birmingham arrived at the conclusion after comparing the money management skills of 87 people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to 76 people with no memory problems. They measured the participant’s skills at the beginning of the study and again a year later using a tool called the Financial Capacity Instrument (FCI), which looks at preparing and paying bills, understanding a bank statement and balancing a checkbook, identifying fraud situations, counting coins and currency, and buying groceries.

During the study period, 25 participants progressed to Alzheimer’s disease. Their FCI scores showed a 6 percent decline from the start of the study, and their skills in managing a checkbook dropped by 9 percent. The 62 people with MCI who did not progress to Alzheimer’s and the control group maintained their FCI scores throughout the year. “Our findings show that declining financial skills are detectable in patients with mild cognitive impairment in the year before their conversion to Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead study author Professor Daniel Marson, of the neurology department and the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University. “Doctors should proactively monitor people with MCI for declining financial skills and advise them and their caregivers about steps they can take to watch for signs of poor money management.”

Marson also had advice for caregivers to avoid negative financial events. “Caregivers should consider overseeing a person’s checking transactions, contacting the person’s bank to find money issues, such as bills being paid twice, or become co-signers on the checking account so that both signatures are required for checks written above a certain amount,” he said. “Online Banking and bill payment services are also good options,” he added.

Dr. Susanne Sorenson, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, agreed that this could be a useful indicator for doctors supporting people with memory problems. “Everyone struggles now and then to divide a restaurant bill or total up a checkbook,” she said. “However, this study suggests that if you already experience significant memory problems and start to notice a decline in your financial skills it could be a sign of developing dementia.”

Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s. There are 10 classic warning signs of the disease: memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood or behavior, changes in personality, and loss of initiative. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are treatments that can slow the development of symptoms. These treatments work best when started early on in the course of the disease, and have less of an effect later on.

The study appears in the September 22 issue of Neurology.