Missing credit card payments may be an early sign of dementia, study says

Patterns of missing credit card and loan payments could be an early indicator of dementia years before diagnosis, a new study says.

The study, published Monday in the medical journal JAMA, looked at Medicare patients living alone across the United States and analysed their credit data and payments over time.

Researchers found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia were more likely to miss payments up to six years before getting diagnosed, the study said.

And, those poor financial actions led them to poor credit scores two and a half years before diagnosis, as opposed to the patients without dementia.

‘So common’

“I think we were a little surprised that it was so common that we could really see it in the data,” lead author Lauren Hersch Nicholas said.

“Doctors colloquially say that you should look for dementia in the chequebook, but I don’t think we had any sense of for how many years in advance these effects could be happening.”

Researchers looked at consumer credit report data from more than 81,000 Medicare recipients in the US for almost a 20-year period, from 1999 to 2018, according to the study.

Early warning signs

The wide data pool revealed that the patients who ultimately were diagnosed with dementia had early signs of financial symptoms.

“It’s upsettingly common,” Nicholas said.

“At the height of our results, we’re finding dementia is accounting for between 5 per cent and 20 per cent of the missed payments among those who eventually developed dementia.

“Lots of other factors also cause you to miss making payments, but I think dementia turns out being one of the most important ones as well in this age group.”

File image of an older woman holding a credit card. Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

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