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Watch Alzheimer's red flags

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:17pm

Alzheimer's disease can affect people's financial-management skills well before better-known problems like memory loss lead to a formal diagnosis, according to extensive research conducted by the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama-- Birmingham and supported by the National Institute for Aging.

The implications of Daniel Marson's studies are especially significant for farm families, since 25% of U.S. farmers are 65 or older, the age range where Alzheimer's occurs most frequently.

Furthermore, farm success commonly depends, in part, on big-ticket financial decisions that are far more complex than balancing a checkbook.

Yet Marson has found that even the ability to handle a checkbook or read a bank statement declines notably in the year before patients are diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's.

"By the time people are diagnosed, only the most basic financial skills remain, like naming and counting money," he says. "There's also a dulling in judgment, in the ability to recognize when something is intuitively wrong about a deal."

He outlines five other financial changes that warn families to take action:

1. Memory lapse when paying bills. When someone who used to be very disciplined about paying bills starts forgetting to pay or paying the same bill more than once, it suggests an underlying change in his or her financial skills.

2. Deteriorating records. The organized person who used to keep records sorted and neatly stacked now has papers everywhere and has problems misplacing records.

3. Math errors. The family member who was a math whiz now makes subtraction errors in the checkbook, counting errors during inventory, or is uncertain about numbers and is hesitant about making math mistakes.

4. Confusion about core concepts like loans. Financial concepts that used to be second nature are no longer understood. This could show up as problems calculating interest on a loan or even recognizing the implications of failing to pay on a loan.

5. Vulnerability to financial schemes. As financial judgment fades, the person may develop a new and unhealthy interest in get-rich-quick schemes or may become close to questionable people he or she would have distrusted in the past.

Marson urges families to trust their instincts if they see a loved one's financial skills declining and get help.

"By addressing your worries early, you can take steps to manage both the disease and the financial-management issues before there's a disaster. You can reduce the stress on the patient and spouse, and you can avoid some terrible decisions that would put the family and the farm in a financial hole, he advises.

If there isn't an Alzheimer's care center nearby, the first step is to consult with your family doctor. Family physicians are growing more astute about Alzheimer's. But families should be prepared to persist and seek a referral to a neurologist if they aren't satisfied with the first doctor visit.

"It's clear that financial skills are highly vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease," Marson says. "This is not simply normal aging."

Alzheimer's disease can affect people's financial-management skills well before better-known problems like memory loss lead to a formal diagnosis, according to extensive research conducted by the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama-- Birmingham and supported by the National Institute for Aging.

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