The Little-Known Sign That Could Help To Detect Alzheimer's 'Years' In Advance

One expert says it offers "invaluable information regarding early-stage dementia."
Serene senior lady with her eyeglasses reading newspapers while resting at her cozy home table
Dobrila Vignjevic via Getty Images
Serene senior lady with her eyeglasses reading newspapers while resting at her cozy home table

We’ve written before at HuffPost UK about how day-to-day activities, like brushing your teeth and climbing the stairs, can reveal early signs of dementia.

And now new research from Professor Cal Muckley from UCD College of Business and colleagues has found that by considering banking behaviours alongside standard clinical indicators (such as age, gender, and health status, etc.), 71% of individuals eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia could be identified as far as four years in advance.

This happens “with one in seven predictions of dementia correct,” the paper reads.

How come?

“Our work shows that money management difficulties comprise invaluable information regarding early-stage dementia,” Professor Muckley told HuffPost UK.

“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.”

The National Institute on Aging agrees, saying “money problems may be one of the first noticeable signs of the disease. Early on, a person with dementia may be able to perform basic tasks, such as paying bills, but they are likely to have problems with more complicated tasks, such as balancing a bank account.”

“The proportion of persons over 70 years old with MMD [money management difficulties] who are, in the subsequent 4 years, clinically diagnosed with dementia is 27.94%,” Professor Muckley’s paper shared.

“In contrast, only 6.01% of those without MMD are clinically diagnosed with dementia in the subsequent 4 years.”

So, the researchers built an AI model that uses existing Alzheimer’s research data with a person’s spending habits to predict diagnoses.

What can we do with that information?

The researchers suggest that banks, which already have access to individuals’ spending habits, should “use this data to enhance their protection of customers with dementia, and to inform the inter-generational transfer of financial control to a reliable agent.”

Professor Muckley told HuffPost UK that family members may be able to help in the meantime by looking at the severity and context of a loved one’s money issues.

“While we all suffer money management difficulties to various extents, where these difficulties spike in old age can be an invaluable indication of severe cognitive decline, and this was not known to be the case prior to our study, ” he shared.

“This lead indicator can be acted on by families to better protect the individual both medically and otherwise.

How should the news be broken?

When it comes to breaking the news to a suspected dementia patient struggling with money issues, Professor Muckley told HuffPost UK that “a suggestion should be made that the recipient might seek clinical advice to test for the possibility that early stage dementia is afoot.”

“The amount of uncertainty around the prediction would need to be described in the communication and the possibility of other factors being responsible for the financial difficulty, e.g. major life events such as divorce, bankruptcy etc., can be highlighted,” he added, and “if there is a trusted nominee, noted by the bank (e.g. in line with FINRA rule 4512 and the NASAA’s 2016 Model Act), then that individual should at the same time be alerted.”

Regarding banks’ potential to alert suspected dementia cases, he told HuffPost UK, “It may be decided that only those persons who have opted into a risk management system should be alerted with any news, and this can counter data privacy concerns.”

If you are personally concerned about a loved one, seek medical advice ASAP as patients benefit from an early diagnosis.