Problems in completing financial tasks and difficulty in managing finances among aging adults could be an early sign of dementia, a new study reveals.

Results of the clinical research from Duke University linked the buildup of protein deposits or amyloid plaques in the brain to declining financial management skills. Some people can develop amyloid plaques as they grow older. In particular, those with Alzheimer's disease have higher concentrations of plaques in regions of the brain that is responsible for memory, but these can also be present in cognitively healthy people.

The study says that it is a common mistaken belief that financial difficulties may only occur in the late stages of dementia, but it can actually happen early and with very subtle changes.

"The more we can understand adults' financial decision-making capacity and how that may change with aging, the better we can inform society about those issues," said P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, senior author of the study and a professor of psychiatry and geriatrics at Duke.

Financial Tests For Alzheimer's Patients

The team of researchers probed data from a longitudinal study that uses imaging to measure beta-amyloid deposits in the brain. The said study — the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative — had 243 participants aged 55 to 90 years old. They were divided into three patient groups: the cognitively healthy, people with mild cognitive impairment, and people with mild memory impairment.

The participants' financial skills were assessed using the Financial Capacity Instrument Short Form, a test that measures skills in monetary calculation, financial concepts, and use of check register and bank statement. The test is sensitive enough to detect even subtle changes and can also help doctors monitor a person's cognitive function over time.

Testing results indicated declining performance even at the earliest stage of memory impairment, an early stage that can lead to a more pronounced dementia. Doraiswamy said the financial skills test could be as good a predictor of dementia as the traditional memory tests. The study is published in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease.

Dementia Is Deadly

Dementia is a cognitive disease that can cause long-term effects on a person's ability to think and function normally. In the past two decades, dementia-linked deaths more than doubled in the United States.

"Overall, age-adjusted death rates for dementia increased from 30.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2000 to 66.7 in 2017," according to a report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of dementia deaths were gauged based on factors such as age, gender, and race. The report said the death rate was higher for women as compared to men.

"If you haven't died of heart disease or cancer or something else and you get to the very oldest ages, your risk for getting dementia is higher," said Ellen Kramarow, a CDC health statistician.

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