This Is the No. 1 Dementia Symptom People Ignore, Doctors Say


It's easy to miss the first signs of cognitive decline. Recognizing early dementia symptoms has become more critical than ever as the Alzheimer's Association projects that 12.7 million people age 65 and older will have some form of dementia by 2050. That's why a growing body of research around behavioral changes associated with dementia could help in the early detection of the neurodegenerative condition. Unfortunately, this subtle action is often overlooked by people with dementia and their families. Read on to learn more about this cognitive red flag and whether you should schedule a dementia screening for yourself or a loved one.

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Certain habits can signal cognitive impairment.

Most people think memory loss is the only sign of dementia, but there's much more to this debilitating condition than forgetfulness. There are many other behavioral and psychological symptoms associated with dementia. The most common are apathy, depression, irritability, agitation, and anxiety, while the rarest are euphoria, hallucinations, and lack of inhibition. Many of these are subtle at first, so knowing what to look for is vital in early detection as it can significantly impact the course of your disease and delay its progression.

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This behavior change can appear several years before dementia diagnosis.

In a 2020 study published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers compared the medical records and consumer credit reports of more than 80,000 people aged 65 and older who were Medicare beneficiaries. They found that people who developed dementia were significantly more likely to have financial problems and poor credit scores. For example, compared to participants who were never diagnosed with dementia, those with dementia were more likely to miss bill payments up to six years before diagnosis and developed subprime credit scores two and a half years prior to diagnosis. Furthermore, these financial problems became more prevalent following a dementia diagnosis.

Monica Moreno, Senior Director of Care and Support at the Alzheimer's Association, tells Best Life, "While there are several signs or symptoms of dementia, challenges with problem-solving or planning can cause a person to mismanage their finances. Other dementia-related symptoms that can adversely affect money management or personal finances include poor judgment and difficulty completing familiar tasks."

Dementia puts your family's financial security at risk, experts say.
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The study concluded that missed bill payments lead to higher penalties and interest fees that are detrimental to your financial well-being. The researchers estimated that additional fees and interest alone cost the households in their sample $383 to $670 four years before dementia diagnosis. In addition, subprime borrowers pay an estimated $1,085 to $1,425 more in credit card interest annually because of higher rates. This raises the argument that financial guidance is essential for dementia patients following diagnosis.

"During the early stages of dementia, a person may be able to do simple tasks like paying bills, but struggle with more complicated tasks like managing investments or making a decision on large purchases," explains Moreno. "Since dementia is often progressive, these challenges will increase over time. Therefore, family members need to identify these potential signs early and intervene as soon as possible."

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It's essential to spot financial behavior changes for early detection of dementia.

Common signs include the inability to balance checking accounts, consistently making late payments on credit cards, and overspending. Moreno adds, "People with dementia are susceptible to fraud, including identity theft, insurance scams, and get-rich-quick schemes. Allowing these problems or potential threats to go unaddressed can put individuals living with dementia [and their families] at great financial risk."

When spotting signs of dementia, it's the sooner the better. That's because early detection of cognitive decline can help protect older adults and their families from the burden of unnecessary financial stress. The JAMA Internal Medicine study advises, "Families should be counseled about the potential need to help with financial management following [dementia] diagnosis." Talk to your healthcare provider about a dementia screening if you've noticed unusual behavior or financial problems in yourself or a family member.