Giving away money voluntarily and excessively may be a sign of Alzheimer’s

June 21, 2022
Giving away money voluntarily and excessively may be a sign of Alzheimer’s

Different from healthy financial altruism, research from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California suggest that willingness to give away money among older adults as well as their susceptibility to scam, fraud, or financial exploitation, could be linked to early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Using a behavioural economics paradigm, researchers studied the ease at which older participants parted with their money and how it correlated with poor performance on Alzheimer’s-sensitive cognitive assessments.

The researchers recruited 67 adults who were given USD10 and instructed to allocate it however they wished, in set increments, between themselves and an anonymous person who was completing the study online.

The participants also completed a series of neuropsychological tests, including several that are commonly used to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. The tests included story and word recall tasks, a category fluency test, and several other cognitive assessments.

Participants who gave more money away scored significantly lower on the neuropsychological tests. There were no significant performance differences on other neuropsychological tests.

As the findings indicate a link between financial altruism and cognition, improved screening for Alzheimer’s disease is expected to help people protect their loved ones from financial exploitation. It could also help the research community distinguish between what represents healthy giving behaviour versus something that could signify underlying problems.

“The last thing we would want is for people to think that financial altruism among older adults is a bad thing,” said Dr. Duke Han, director of neuropsychology in the Department of Family Medicine and a professor of family medicine, neurology, psychology, and gerontology at the Keck School of Medicine. “It can certainly be a deliberate and positive use of a person’s money.”

Han and colleagues are now collecting data for a longitudinal study using the same giving task, which could help determine whether some older adults are becoming more altruistic over time.

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Category: Education, Features

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