The aging brain and financial struggles

Dr. Roush and Dr. Kunik
Dr. Roush and Dr. Kunik

As we age, it may become easier to lose our keys, forget someone’s name, or fail to recall where we parked our car. But the way the brain changes as we get older also makes us more susceptible to fraud—which can forever affect our financial future.

At the recent Huffington Health Forum, BCM psychiatry professor Dr. Mark Kunik and Dr. Robert Roush, associate professor at BCM’s Huffington Center on Aging, spoke on the topic of how the aging brain affects our finances and what we can do about it.

Age affects financial decisions

Roush explains that as we age, cognitive functioning may become impaired, and it becomes difficult to make sound financial decisions.

He says that of people who are 71 years and older, 35 percent have mild cognitive impairment or full dementia. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment make four times the amount of financial errors than those who don’t.

“Not everyone is vulnerable to cognitive impairment or fraud. But for those who are, if they lose enough money and have to choose between paying for out-of-pocket healthcare costs and routine living expenses, that’s when it becomes a situation when doctors have to get involved,” says Roush, “Some simply don’t have enough time to make up for losses.”

Roush says that of all elder care abuse cases, 30 percent are financial exploitation. Elders lose approximately 2.9 billion dollars a year to fraud.

Keeping our minds and memories sharp

“This is a dear issue to me,” Kunik says, “Every month, I see two to three people in my clinic who get taken advantage of, and my role is to untangle what’s going on.” He says that it’s not only financially tragic to the individual, but it can create “unbelievable turmoil” within families.

Kunik says there’s strong evidence that physical activity improves memory, motor skills, cognitive speed, attention, and mood, in general. Plus, there’s moderate evidence that it helps all of the same areas in people who have memory problems. So keeping our bodies fit, especially as we age, may be helping our minds as well (and in turn, our wallets!).

Along the same lines, Kunik says that we know controlling chronic medical problems will help—poorly controlled diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease impair cognitive functions. Controlling psychological problems like depression and anxiety, which affect memory and problem-solving abilities, will help, too.

Additional tips

Kunik says additional ways to keep our minds and memories sharp include:

  • Keeping our minds active by doing puzzles or brain-teaser computer programs
  • Staying socially active
  • Getting adequate vitamin B
  • Maintaining a lower cholesterol level
  • Quitting smoking
  • Controlling our blood pressure levels
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Staying up-to-date on vaccinations

We may potentially harm our memories by taking high-dose supplements or high-dose vitamins and start exercising more than normal without seeking medical supervision first. Walking for half an hour a few times a week is helpful, Kunik says, but if you decide to do more than that, check with your doctor.

The takeaway: In the course of aging, stay active for a healthy mind, body, and bank account.

Other presentations from the Huffington Health Forum included: “Is Inflammation the Cause of Aging: InflammAging” with Dr. George Taffet, professor and chief of geriatrics at BCM, and “Medical Advances from Space Exploration with Dr. Neal Pellis, director of the Division of Space Life Sciences, Universities Space Research Association.

-By Jordan Magaziner

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