As people age, they may become more generous with their money. But although many of us would likely praise such financial altruism, it might actually indicate that someone is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.
Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that older adults who give away money often also exhibit signs of decreased cognitive function.
For the study, the researchers included 67 participants age 50 or older who had no previous diagnosis of cognitive issues. Each participant got $10 for being in the study, but was offered the chance to send some or all of the money to someone else who was participating in the study anonymously.
Then, participants completed a battery of cognitive tests. Those who were more altruistic were more likely to perform worse on measures of brain function that can show early changes related to Alzheimer’s disease.
The study authors note that earlier research has found a link between aging and an increase in altruistic behaviors, including giving to charity.
While the researchers emphasize that a tendency to donate to good causes can be a good thing, an increase in such behavior also might indicate declining cognitive function, at least in some situations.
According to a summary of the researchers’ findings from the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the study:
“Problems with managing money and financial decision-making may also be among the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Further, older adults are more likely to be susceptible to financial abuse, scams, and fraud compared to younger or middle-aged adults.”
The researchers note that family members and caregivers might use insights gleaned from the study to protect loved ones from financial risk associated with cognitive decline, including mishandling money and falling victim to scams and other types of abuse.
However, the researchers also emphasize that the participants in the study had not been diagnosed with cognitive impairment and did not report changes in their cognitive health. Further studies are necessary to confirm that increased financial altruism is linked to Alzheimer’s, the researchers say.
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