Willingness to give away money in older adults associated with the cognitive profile of early Alzheimer’s disease


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Summary: Older people’s willingness to give away more money appears to correlate with cognitive decline associated with dementia. The findings may explain why many older adults are more vulnerable to financial exploitation.

Source: U.S.C

To protect older adults from financial exploitation, researchers are working to understand who is most at risk.

New findings from USC’s Keck School of Medicine, published this week in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseasesuggest that willingness to give away money may be associated with the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sixty-seven older adults who did not have dementia or cognitive impairment completed a laboratory task in which they decided whether to give money to an anonymous individual or keep it for themselves.

They also completed a series of cognitive tests, such as word and story recall. Those who gave away more money performed lower on cognitive tests known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our goal is to understand why some older adults may be more vulnerable to fraud, fraud, or financial exploitation than others,” said the study’s senior author Duke Han, Ph.D., 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.

“Difficulties with money management are thought to be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.”

Previous research that has tested the link between altruism and cognition has relied on self-report measures, such as asking older adults if they would be willing to give money in certain scenarios. The present study used real money to examine the link.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the relationship using a behavioral economics paradigm, a scenario in which participants had to make decisions about whether to give or keep actual money,” said Gali H. Weissberger, Ph.D ., a senior lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Social Sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and first author of the study.

giving and recognizing

The researchers recruited 67 adults with an average age of 69 for the study. They collected data on the demographics of the participants and controlled for the effects of age, gender and education level in the final analysis. Participants were excluded from the study if they met criteria for dementia or cognitive impairment.

At the lab, each participant was told they were paired with an anonymous individual who conducted the study online. They were then given $10 and instructed to split it between themselves and the anonymous individual as they wished in increments of $1.

The older adults in the study also completed a battery of neuropsychological tests, including several that are commonly used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. The tests included story and word recall tasks, in which participants were asked to remember information after a short delay; a category fluency test that lists words related to a specific topic; and several other cognitive assessments.

Participants who gave more gifts performed significantly worse on the neuropsychological tests known to be sensitive to early Alzheimer’s disease. There were no significant differences in performance on other neuropsychological tests.

clarify link

More research is needed to confirm the nature of the relationship between financial altruism and cognitive health in older adults, including with larger and more representative samples. Future studies could also collect behavioral and self-reported data on financial altruism to better understand participants’ motivations for giving.

This shows coins in the hands of an elderly man
Those who gave away more money performed lower on cognitive tests known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease. The image is in the public domain

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

“If a person experiences any type of change in their altruistic behavior, it could indicate that changes are also taking place in the brain,” Weissberger said.

Clarifying these details about the link between altruism and cognition could ultimately improve screening for Alzheimer’s disease and help people protect loved ones from financial exploitation. It can also help researchers distinguish what constitutes healthy giving behavior and what might indicate underlying problems.

See also

This shows neurons

“The last thing we want is for people to think that financial altruism among older adults is a bad thing,” Han said. “It can certainly be a conscious and positive use of a person’s money.”

About this news from Alzheimer’s research

Author: Zara Abrams
Source: U.S.C
Contact: Zara Abrams-USC
Picture: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Closed access.
“Increased financial altruism is associated with the neurocognitive profile of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults” by Gali H. Weissberger et al. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease


Increased financial altruism is associated with the neurocognitive profile of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults

Background: Older age is associated with an increase in altruistic behaviors such as charitable donations. However, few studies have examined the cognitive correlates of financial altruism in older adults.

Objective: This study examined the cognitive correlates of financial altruism, measured using an altruistic choice paradigm, in a community-based sample of older adults.

Methods: In the present study, a sample of older adults graduated (N = 67; M age = 69.21, SD = 11.23; M years of education = 15.97, SD = 2.51; 58.2% female; 71.6% non-Hispanic whites) a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment and an altruistic choice paradigm in which they made decisions about allocating money between themselves and an anonymous individual.

Results: In multiple linear regression analyzes controlling for age, education, and gender, financial altruism was negatively associated with performance on cognitive measures typically sensitive to early Alzheimer’s disease (including learning and word list recall, delayed story recall, and mastery of animals).

Conclusion: The results of this study indicate a negative relationship between financial altruism and cognitive functioning in older adults on interventions known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease. The results also point to a possible link between the risk of financial exploitation and Alzheimer’s disease in old age.

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