Early stages of Alzheimer’s disease weaken cognitive abilities to make responsible financial decisions before diagnosis, according to a new study released by the Georgetown University Medical Center on Oct. 24.
The study, published in the journal Health Economics, used data from Medicare claims between 1992 and 2014 and the National Institute on Aging’s health and retirement study to track changes in household finances prior to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Interim Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Studies Carole Roan Gresenz was the lead author of the study, which was co-authored by Jean Mitchell, James Marrone and Howard Federoff.
The study’s results show that substantial financial losses occur in households in the time leading up to diagnosis and are particularly concerning given the financial strain of medical bills and caregiving that follows a diagnosis, according to Gresenz.
“Significant limitations and rapid declines in financial capacity — including the ability to manage money, invest wisely, pay bills on time, and control spending — are a hallmark of individuals with early stage Alzheimer’s Disease,” Gresenz wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Prior to diagnosis, these financial decision-making limitations may not be fully appreciated or recognized.”
Alzheimer’s disease and forms of dementia are often made visible through a change in a person’s financial decision making, so early diagnosis may be very effective when it comes to minimizing the financial fallout of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, according to Gresenz.
“A diagnosis can serve as a trigger for families or loved ones to institute checks and balances on an individual’s financial decision making,” Gresenz said. “Thus, earlier diagnosis may help avert adverse financial outcomes.”
Moving forward, Gresenz and her colleagues are working to match credit data with Medicare data to potentially develop a system that uses financial information to identify people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m hopeful that there will be a simple way to screen for individuals who may fit into the potential pre-clinical [Alzheimer’s disease] category, to discern whether they have still the cognitive ability to make good financial decisions,” Federoff said in an interview with The Hoya. “This type of research, which heralds a previously unknown worry, should probably be put on the front-burner so people can understand it.”
Alzheimer’s has been the focus of many recent studies, such as the Alzheimer’s Prevention Trials Webstudy, co-sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The online study seeks healthy participants between the ages of 50 and 85 whose cognitive skills are tested every three months, using changes in performance to flag individuals who demonstrate a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Awareness of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Trials Webstudy could be raised by the concerning results of the financial study, which would aid the APT Webstudy in its mission, according to Brigid Reynolds, clinic coordinator and clinical trial nurse practitioner for the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown.
“Research such as this would improve enrollment in this web study,” Reynolds said in an interview with The Hoya. “My biggest wish is that research like this will just increase recognition for people about this as a problem and get people to come in earlier.”
While the research done on Alzheimer’s disease has not produced a cure or a definitive way to identify the early stages of the disease, Reynolds hopes that the progress made will have a positive effect on the way the disease is treated and identified going forward, he said.
“We hope to discover a disease-modifying treatment to halt or slow the rate of decline in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders and hope to discover ways to improve quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s and their families and caregivers,” Reynolds said.