Forgetting to pay bills on time may be warning sign of Alzheimer’s

Forgetting to pay your bills on time may be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s, a study has suggested.

Researchers have found an inability to keep on top of finances strikes many patients shortly before they are diagnosed.

Scientists at Georgetown University in Washington DC looked at the finances and health records of 33,000 people.  

Difficulties dealing with finances is already known to be a common occurrence in patients with the memory-destroying disorder.

But the team wanted to trawl back through 22-years of data ‘to figure out what was happening to households financially, prior to diagnosis’.

Forgetting to pay bills on time may be warning sign of Alzheimer’s as ‘financial incompetence’ often occurs before diagnosis, experts at Georgetown University claim

Lead author Dr Carole Roan Gresenz said pre-diagnosis households are ‘vulnerable’ to ‘large reductions’ in their bank accounts.

She said: ‘Previous studies show that people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s lose financial capacity.

‘That is, their ability to manage their checkbook, to pay bills on time, to spend in ways that are consistent with the values they had in the past.’ 

The researchers suggested it could be due to confusion, but also vulnerability to exploitation and fraud.

They used data from The Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey of Americans over the age of 50.

A total of 8,871 households were analysed over a 22-year period between 1992 and 2014.

Of these, 2,777 households included a person who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or related dementia, according to Medicore data. 


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.

It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.

The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are age 65 and older.

More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.

It is unknown what causes Alzheimer’s. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s.

 Signs and symptoms:

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information
  • Disorientation
  • Mood and behavioral changes
  • Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers
  • More serious memory loss
  • Difficulty with speaking, swallowing and walking

Stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Mild Alzheimer’s (early-stage) – A person may be able to function independently but is having memory lapses
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s (middle-stage) – Typically the longest stage, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late-stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but experts suggest physical exercise, social interaction and adding brain boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slowdown the onset of symptoms.

The study asked questions about households’ financial assets and liabilities. The data was all self-reported.

The probability of a ‘large adverse change’ in liquid assets increased by 3.3 per cent pre-diagnosis, according to the study.

The team also found a small amount of evidence that these households are likely to have a reduction in net wealth, such as vehicles or home value.

Professor Gresenz said the results of the study, which was published in the journal Health Economics, were concerning.

She added that the adverse financial outcomes are occurring just before the life-changing diagnosis, which can prove costly.  

Charities echoed the financial concerns, and warned an early diagnosis is crucial to help patients keep on top of their money. 

Dementia patients and their families can face years of hefty costs, which has been dubbed the ‘dementia tax’ in the UK.

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, isn’t usually diagnosed until symptoms are severe.

Typically, the first signs include difficulty recalling conversations or misplacing items. It progresses to forgetting simple tasks such as how to cook.

There are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s. In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5million Alzheimer’s sufferers.

Professor Martin Knapp, of the London School of Economics, who was not involved in the study, said the findings are ‘really interesting’.

He told MailOnline: ‘I think it should cause us to stop and think about how to contact and support people with the disease quicker.

‘When services are a bit stretched like in the UK, services are going to be focused on people with more severe needs, like those who need daily help eating, bathing or getting around.

‘But there are many more important things that are effected – such as finance – which may be because the individual, or a family member, has to stop working.

‘As a researcher in this area, I think it’s a really interesting piece of work. No-one has really looked at it before but it represents only part of the picture.’ 

Leading charity Alzheimer’s Research UK said the findings stress the importance of a speedy diagnosis. 

Dr James Connell, research manager, said: ‘Looking after money, paying the bills on time and keeping on top of finances can be challenging for someone with dementia, particularly as the condition progresses. 

‘The diseases that cause dementia can start to cause physical changes in the brain decades before symptoms start to show. 

‘Early diagnosis will be crucial for future treatments to have the best chance of success, but it will also allow people to access support sooner and give them more time to manage their affairs.’


Dementia can cause individuals and their families thousands of pounds over years. 

In the US, the average cost of dementia care over a five-year period was $287,038, compared to around $174,200 for heart disease or cancer, according to Medicare data analysed in 2015. 

The Alzheimer’s Society estimate a typical person’s bill for dementia care would take 125 years to save for. 

In the UK, someone with dementia may need social care, which is not provided free on the NHS. 

The cost of dementia works out as an average annual cost of £32,250 per person with dementia in the UK.

In the current system, the majority of people with dementia currently have to fund the entirety of their care, unless they are deemed to have assets of less than £23,250. 

The cost of a care home for someone with dementia in the UK can be between £600-1,200 a week, which the public have admitted to being fearful of. 

The Daily Mail launched a petition in July calling on the Prime Minister to honour his pledge to fix a broken system that forces countless pensioners to sell their homes to fund crippling care costs.