Any time there’s a potential new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), or an advance in understanding what causes dementia, the news makes big headlines. That’s because there is currently no cure for diseases like AD—and the number of Americans living with dementia is growing at alarming rates. “More than six million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s,” reports the Alzheimer’s Association, which notes: “By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s may grow to a projected 12.7 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow, or cure Alzheimer’s disease.”
Making preventative lifestyle choices is one way to address this devastating disease. But if you do develop dementia, an early diagnosis “can improve the quality of care and quality of life and may reduce the financial and emotional impact of the disease,” the Alzheimer’s Association notes.
While some warning symptoms of AD are well-known, others can be more subtle. Read on to find out about the important clue your credit score can give you.
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The National Institute on Aging (NIA) describes AD as “a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.”
The effects of the disease on the brain are deeply complicated and still being explored by scientists, the NIA says. “Changes in the brain may begin a decade or more before symptoms appear,” the site explains. “During this very early stage of AD, toxic changes are taking place in the brain, including abnormal buildups of proteins that form amyloid plaques and tau tangles [and] previously healthy neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die.” The NIA notes that other changes may occur in the brain as well.
Katie Macklin, Senior Director of Public Policy at the Alzheimer’s Association in Delaware, wrote in an article published by the Delaware Journal of Public Health that “more and more people are beginning to recognize that Alzheimer’s is a true public health crisis.”
The Mayo Clinic explains that AD begins and progresses long before the person begins to show symptoms. “This stage is called preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s usually identified only in research settings,” says the site, which notes that this stage may last for many years, and potentially decades.
“Although you won’t notice any changes, new imaging technologies can now identify deposits of a protein called amyloid-beta that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease,” the Mayo Clinic says. “The ability to identify these early deposits may be especially important for clinical trials and in the future as new treatments are developed for Alzheimer’s disease.”
Early detection of AD and other forms of dementia is critical. Among other benefits, a diagnosis allows people to access drug and non-drug therapies that could help improve their symptoms, says Alzheimer’s Disease International.
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Knowing about the warning signs of dementia can help people spot the condition early—but some symptoms are lesser known than others.
Memory loss, for example, is a recognized potential signal of cognitive decline. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other common symptoms of dementia include confusion about time and location, problems with misplacing things and forgetting where they are, and “difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure.” Changes in mood and personality can also be a sign of AD, the CDC says, as well as withdrawing from social activities and engaging with other people.
The CDC notes that “Challenges in planning or solving problems” may be a warning sign of cognitive decline. Because this can affect how you manage your money, this may manifest as a change in your financial situation, or a markedly different credit score.
Problems with money management can be a sign of AD or other forms of dementia. “It’s not uncommon at all for us to hear that one of the first signs that families become aware of is around a person’s financial dealings,” Beth Kallmyer, vice president for care and support at the Alzheimer’s Association told The New York Times.
“Long before they receive a dementia diagnosis, many people start losing their ability to manage their finances and make sound decisions as their memory, organizational skills and self-control falter, studies show,” reports the Times. “As people fall behind on their bills or make unwise purchases and investments, their bank balances and credit rating may take a hit.” That’s why changes in your finances, or a suddenly different credit store, may signal the onset of cognitive decline—and should be brought to the attention of your medical provider.