Old man in white and empty wallet. Accounting and taxes concept. Falling dollars.
(Credit: maurusone / Getty Images)

Household wealth, especially financial wealth, declines much more quickly among people with probable dementia in the decade before dementia onset compared with older adults without a dementia diagnosis, according to a newly published research letter in JAMA Neurology.

A study led by Jing Li, PhD, MA, from the University of Washington, Seattle, compared trajectories in household wealth for older adults who developed probable dementia with those in a control group without dementia.

The researchers found that household wealth, especially financial wealth, declined much faster among people with probable dementia than those without dementia during the decade before dementia onset. Financial wealth included stocks, checking and saving accounts, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, bonds and other financial assets minus debt.

The authors concluded that the finding may reflect deteriorating financial capacity associated with cognitive decline — including susceptibility to fraud — or the need to draw down assets to pay for increasing medical and long-term care expenses, or to qualify for Medicaid coverage in a long-term care facility. 

Using data from the Health and Retirement Study between 1998 and 2019, the investigators looked at 8,067 people — 2,664 with probable dementia and 5,403 in the control group who did not have dementia. Persons with probable dementia were less likely to be non-Hispanic white, and more likely to have stroke, diabetes or psychiatric conditions.

Eight years before probable dementia onset, median household net worth was similar for those with probable dementia ($217,154) and those without dementia ($210,984). The researchers noted an accelerated decline in net worth leading up to dementia onset for those with probable dementia ($104,360) compared with the group without dementia ($187,123). 

Similarly, median financial wealth was $24,978 for those with probable dementia and $22,551 for the control group eight years before dementia onset, whereas it was $5,418 for those with probable dementia at onset compared with $30,172 for the group without dementia.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging.