Willingness to give money in older adults is linked to cognitive profile of early Alzheimer’s disease

Summary: Older people’s willingness to give more money appears to correlate with cognitive decline associated with dementia. The findings may explain why many seniors may be more prone to financial abuse.

Source: USC

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

New findings from USC’s Keck School of Medicine, published this week in the Alzheimer’s Disease Journalsuggest that willingness to give money may be linked to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sixty-seven elderly people who did not have dementia or cognitive impairment completed a lab task where they decided whether to give money to an anonymous person or keep it for themselves.

They also completed a series of cognitive tests, such as recalling words and stories. Those who donated more money performed worse on cognitive assessments known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our goal is to understand why some older adults might be more susceptible than others to scams, fraud, or financial abuse,” said the study’s lead 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.

“Difficulty managing money is thought to be one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.”

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

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

gift and cognition

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

In the lab, each participant was told that they had been matched with an anonymous person who was completing the study online. They then received $10 and were instructed to split it however they wished, in $1 increments, between themselves and the anonymous person.

Seniors participating in the study also completed a series of neuropsychological tests, several of which are commonly used to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. The tests included story and word recall tasks where participants are asked to recall information after a short delay; a category fluency test which consists of listing words on a specific topic; and several other cognitive assessments.

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

Clarify the link

Further 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.

Those who donated more money performed worse on cognitive assessments known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease. Image is in public domain

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

“If a person is experiencing some sort of change in their altruistic behavior, it could indicate that changes are happening in the brain as well,” Weissberger said.

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

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

About this Alzheimer’s disease research news

Author: Zara Abram
Source: USC
Contact: Zara Abrams – USC
Image: Image is in public domain

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


Summary

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 giving. However, few studies have investigated 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 sample of older adults.

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

Results: In multiple linear regression analyzes that controlled 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 animal fluency).

Conclusion: The results of this study indicate a negative relationship between financial altruism and cognitive functioning in older adults on measures known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease. The results also indicate a potential link between the risk of financial abuse and Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.

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