Know the Signs of Cognitive Decline

According to a 2020 study by the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans age 65 or over are living with Alzheimer’s disease.  At least 80% of these individuals are seventy-five or older.  Two-thirds are women.

As our loved ones age, physical decline may be obvious, while cognitive decline remains subtle.  Cognitive decline can vary from mild changes over an extended time to a more rapid decline over a few months.  Some individuals are diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which typically doesn’t interfere with daily living.  The more serious diagnosis of dementia generally requires more oversight and care.

Just like other diagnoses, early detection of cognitive decline disorders is very important.  There are advancements in drugs and technology that can slow the decline and allow individuals to have a more fulfilling life.  What should we be looking for in our loved ones?  A consistent change in the following areas:

  • Forgetting appointments or social engagements. Many individuals that live with cognitive decline will also exclude themselves from conversations at social events because they are no longer able to follow along.  A “social butterfly” who withdraws from social activities altogether could be experiencing cognitive decline.
  • Loss of the ability to process thoughts. They find it difficult to keep track of monthly bills or organize their grocery lists.  In some cases, individuals forget to eat or bathe.
  • Small decisions become overwhelming. Completing simple tasks takes focused thought.
  • More impulsive or poor judgment. This typically shows up in odd spending patterns – buying items over and over because they forgot they bought the item.
  • Trouble finding their way around familiar places. Driving becomes more difficult due to problems with judging distances and not remembering how to return home.
  • Changes in mood. Anxiety and depression typically often accompany (and may sometimes mask) cognitive decline.

What are the next steps if you suspect a friend or loved one is experiencing cognitive decline?

  • Make a list of changes in memory or behavior that you observe.
  • Is there anything else going on in the loved one’s life? Any unusual circumstances? Any other health diagnoses?
  • Ask friends and family if they have noticed any changes.
  • Come up with the best way to approach your loved one to recommend additional testing and conversations with their medical professionals. The Alzheimer’s Association website has some great resources to help with these conversations.

How does this relate to their financial life?

Unfortunately, cognitive decline, if not detected early, can create significant problems in a loved one’s financial life.  Forgetting a few monthly expenses can lead to lapsed insurance policies, late fees, and interest charges.  More serious lapses owing to cognitive decline can include not paying taxes or not filing tax returns, donating money needed for care, or falling victim to scammers and identity thieves.

~ Jennifer Adams