If You Notice This While Shopping, Get Checked for Dementia


As you age, you may notice that your memory and problem solving abilities aren't quite what they used to be. While many people dismiss these changes as a normal part of aging, experts warn that even subtle mild instances of cognitive impairment or memory loss can be a possible sign of dementia. They say that you should always discuss these changes with your general practitioner, who can help you assess your symptoms. In particular, experts warn that there's one early sign of dementia you may notice while shopping—and if it happens to you, it may be time for a dementia screening. Read on to find out which red flag to look out for, and how to protect yourself from the serious consequences that could occur because of it.

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If you have trouble handling money while shopping, get checked for dementia.

In the early stages of dementia, cognitive symptoms can be particularly subtle, making them easy to dismiss. Yet experts from the U.K.'s National Health Services (NHS) say that if you notice increased difficulty with handling money while shopping, you should never ignore it. They say that many dementia patients may get confused while trying to calculate the correct change when shopping, or may have difficulty determining an appropriate tip in a restaurant. They add that this increased difficulty with numbers and money is especially prevalent in those with Alzheimer's disease.

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This can lead to major financial troubles later on.

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, this can have increasingly serious financial consequences over time. "Early on, a person with Alzheimer's may be able to perform basic tasks, such as paying bills, but he or she is likely to have problems with more complicated tasks, such as balancing a checkbook," NIA experts explain. "As the disease gets worse, the person may try to hide financial problems to protect his or her independence. Or, the person may not realize that he or she is losing the ability to handle money matters," they add.

In fact, studies have found that many dementia patients experience financial trouble years before displaying any other signs of the disease. A 2021 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that "deteriorating financial capabilities are among the earliest signs of cognitive decline." After reviewing the medical and financial records of over 81,000 Medicare beneficiaries, they found that those who eventually went on to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or related dementias (ADRD) "were more likely to miss payments on credit accounts as early as six years prior to diagnosis compared with demographically similar beneficiaries without ADRD."

Look out for these signs of financial trouble.

Recognizing signs of financial trouble may help you come to a dementia diagnosis sooner while protecting your finances, says the NIA. Begin by noting any time you have difficulty "counting change, paying for a purchase, calculating a tip, balancing a checkbook, or understanding a bank statement," the organization recommends.

If you're concerned about the financial habits of someone in your life—a close friend or family member, for instance—there may be additional signs that could tip you off to a problem. Unpaid or unopened bills, higher than usual credit card bills, a slew of new purchases, the accumulation of strange merchandise, or money missing from a person's bank account can all be signs of mild cognitive impairment that's affecting one's financial wellbeing.

In the event that these financial issues seem to signal a greater problem, a family member or trustee may step in to assist on financial matters. This role may include reviewing financial records, checking bank balances, or holding the title to a property or funds in the patient's name.

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Here's how to protect yourself or others from financial abuse and fraud.

Those with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia may ultimately need financial assistance, so it's crucial to set the terms of this arrangement early, before symptoms of cognitive impairment progress. Worsening dementia symptoms can render you increasingly vulnerable to financial abuse and fraud at the hands of strangers, "friends," or in some cases, even family members.

The NIA points out that dementia patients are more susceptible to identity theft, insurance or health scams, get-rich-quick schemes, fraudulent deals and prizes, will manipulation, and outright theft. Creating legal barriers that protect your finances early on can save you a world of financial hurt later, in the event that your cognitive state should decline. If you believe that you or someone you know has already become a victim of a scam, you can contact your local police department, the State Consumer Protection Office, or Area Agency on Aging Office.

And, of course, if you believe the root cause of your financial woes is cognitive decline, speak with your doctor now about your treatment options. Certain medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes may help manage your symptoms, improving your prognosis and quality of life.

RELATED: Notice This in the Late Afternoon? Get Checked for Dementia, Says Mayo Clinic.