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Giving money generously could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease

Giving money generously could be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease
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Giving money generously could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease according to a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health [RF1AG068166, T32AG000037] and the Elder Justice Foundation.

In an effort to aid older people who are most at risk of financial exploitation, researchers have found a correlation between seniors’ readiness to give money and the early-stage cognitive signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Financial generosity and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may be linked, according to a study from the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

In this lab experiment, 67 elderly people without dementia or cognitive impairment must decide whether to give money to an unknown recipient or retain it for themselves. They also took part in a variety of cognitive tasks, such as word and narrative recall.

The result shows that those who gave more money performed worse on the cognitive tests that are known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease.

Duke Han, Ph.D., director of neuropsychology in the Department of Family Medicine and a professor of family medicine, neurology, psychology and gerontology at the Keck School of Medicine.
Duke Han, Ph.D., director of neuropsychology in the Department of Family Medicine and a professor of family medicine, neurology, psychology and gerontology at the Keck School of Medicine.

Duke Han, the study’s senior author says “Our goal is to understand why some older adults might be more susceptible than others to scams, fraud or financial exploitation.” The study shows that one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease is having trouble managing money.

Older individuals were asked if they would be willing to give money in specific situations as part of earlier research that examined the link between altruism and cognition. The association was examined in the current study using real money.

Gali H. Weissberger, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Israel
Gali H. Weissberger, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Israel

Gali H. Weissberger, the study’s first author says “this is the first study to explore the relationship using a behavioral economics paradigm, meaning a scenario where participants had to make decisions about giving or keeping actual money.”

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The connection between giving and cognition

The 67 people who were included in the experiment had an average age of 69. After obtaining data on the demographics of the participants, they conducted the final analysis and took into account the effects of age, sex and educational attainment.

People with dementia or any other form of cognitive impairment were not allowed to take part in the study. Each participant was told in the lab that they had been paired with an anonymous online study participant. Then they were given $10 and told to divide it between themselves and the unknown person as they saw fit in $1 increments.

The elderly individuals in the study also took a battery of neuropsychological tests, including a few that are frequently employed to assist in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The category fluency test, which asks participants to list terms on a particular theme, story memory tasks, word recall tasks and numerous other cognitive tests were all part of the testing.

On the neuropsychological exams known to be sensitive to early Alzheimer’s disease, participants who gave more away performed much worse. Other cognitive tests did not reveal any variations in performance that were appreciable.

The nature of the connection between financial altruism and cognitive health in older people requires more study, possibly with bigger and more representative samples. In the future, researchers may also look at the financial altruism behaviors and self-reports of participants to learn more about what causes them.

Weissberger noted that if a person’s altruistic conduct changes in any way, this might be a sign that their brain is also changing.

These facts concerning the relationship between giving money generously and cognition might in the end, enhance Alzheimer’s disease screening and assist individuals in shielding their loved ones from financial abuse.

It can also assist researchers in differentiating between giving behavior that is indicative of healthy conduct and behavior that can indicate underlying issues.

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