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Predictors of Dementia: in Bills?

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This week, Johns Hopkins University researchers found a predictor for dementia can go back as far as 7 years before diagnosis—in the form of missed bill dates.

Could one of the predictors for dementia be found in missed payments and due dates?  Likely so, according to findings published late last month in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal.  Signs of forgetfulness are definitely predictive of developing dementia, but the time range going back as far as 7 years in the past is what surprised researchers.  It’s not uncommon to find lower credit scores emerging about two and half years before a diagnosis is confirmed because of the frequency of missed payments.

Being late on paying the bills steadily increases as the risk for dementia increases.  In the six years leading up to the diagnosis, 5.2% of late payments gradually increases to 17.9% up to nine months after the diagnosis is made.  The consequences of late bill payments, foreclosures, and penalized credit scores continue after the diagnosis for an average of almost four years.

The researchers elaborated that out of all the health conditions to affect older people, only dementia carries this type of financial pattern.  Despite medical bill payments, there was no association between this financial pattern of bill delinquency in elderly individuals who had arthritis, hip fracture, glaucoma, or heart attacks.

This stresses a need for older adults to find help in managing their finances as they get older, and to ensure that it’s important to look at the whole picture of elderly patients’ lives when looking for clues to diagnose dementia.  It can also remind us to check in on our older family members and help with the financial management before more serious consequences arise from forgetting a few payments. If you notice any changes in an older person's finances, it may be worth bringing this up with them so they can discuss it with their doctor and seek out early screening interventions.


Lauren Hersch Nicholas, et al. Financial Presentation of Alzheimer Disease and Related DementiasJAMA Internal Medicine, 2020; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.6432


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