How Spending Mistakes Can Be Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

“We went into the study thinking we might be able to see these financial indicators,” said Lauren Hersch Nicholas, a co-author of the study who is an associate professor of public health at the University of Colorado. “But we were sort of surprised and dismayed to find that you really could. That means it’s sufficiently common, because we’re picking it up in a sample of 80,000 people.”

For decades, Pam McElreath kept the books for the insurance agency that she and her husband, Jimmy, owned in Aberdeen, N.C. In the early 2000s, she started having trouble with routine tasks. She assigned the wrong billing codes to expenditures, filled in checks with the wrong year, forgot to pay the premium on her husband’s life insurance policy.

Everyone makes mistakes, right? It’s just part of aging, her friends would say.

“But it’s not like my friend that made that one mistake, one time,” Ms. McElreath, 67, said. “Every month I was having to correct more mistakes. And I knew something was wrong.”

She received diagnoses of mild cognitive impairment in 2011, at age 56, and early-onset Alzheimer’s two years later. In 2017, doctors changed her diagnosis to frontotemporal dementia.

Getting a devastating diagnosis is hard enough, but learning to cope with it is also hard. Eventually both Ms. McElreath and Ms. Turner put mechanisms in place to keep their finances on an even keel.

Ms. Turner, who has two adult children, lives alone. After her diagnosis, she hired a financial manager, and together they set up a system that provides her with a set amount of spending money every month and doesn’t allow her to make large withdrawals on impulse. She ditched her credit cards and removed eBay and Amazon from her phone.

Though not a micromanager, the financial adviser keeps an eye on Ms. Turner’s spending and questions her when something seems off.

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