Generosity Could Be an Early Sign of Alzheimer’s

Man Cash Money Tip

According to the study, those who gave away more money had lower results on tests of cognition known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease.

Seniors’ willingness to give money is associated with the early-stage cognitive indicators of Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers are attempting to identify those who are most vulnerable to financial exploitation in order to help protect older adults. Recent research from the Keck School of Medicine at USC suggests a connection between financial generosity and the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. These results were recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Han Duke

Duke Han, Ph.D., director of neuropsychology in the Department of Family Medicine. Credit: Ricardo Carrasco III

A laboratory exercise required 67 senior citizens without dementia or cognitive impairment to choose between giving money to an unidentified recipient and keeping it for themselves. Additionally, they participated in various cognitive tests, including word and story recall. On the cognitive tests known to be sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease, those who gave more money did worse.

“Our goal is to understand why some older adults might be more susceptible than others to scam, fraud, or financial exploitation,” 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. “Trouble handling money is thought to be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.”

Earlier studies that looked at the relationship between altruism and cognition focused on self-report measures, such as asking older adults whether they would be willing to give money in particular scenarios. In the current study, the relationship was investigated using actual money.

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

Giving and cognition

The average age of the 67 adults the researchers enrolled in the trial was 69. In the final analysis, they adjusted for the impacts of age, sex, and education level after gathering information on participant demographics. If a participant had dementia or any kind of cognitive impairment, they were excluded from the research.

Each participant was informed in the lab that they had been matched with an online research participant who would remain anonymous. They were then given $10 and told to split it between themselves and the anonymous individual in $1 increments as they saw fit.

The older participants in the research also underwent a series of neuropsychological exams, including several that are often used to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. The tests included story and word recall tasks where participants are asked to remember information after a short delay; a category fluency test that involves listing words on a specific topic; and several other cognitive assessments.

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

Clarifying the 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 both behavioral and self-report data on financial altruism to better understand participants’ motivations for giving.

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

“If a person is experiencing some kind of change in their altruistic behavior, that might indicate that changes are also happening 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 their loved ones from financial exploitation. It can also help researchers distinguish between what represents healthy giving behavior 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,” Han said. “It can certainly be a deliberate and positive use of a person’s money.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health [RF1AG068166, T32AG000037] and the Elder Justice Foundation.

Reference: “Increased Financial Altruism is Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease Neurocognitive Profile in Older Adults” by Gali H. Weissberger, Anya Samek, Laura Mosqueda, Annie L. Nguyen, Aaron C. Lim, Laura Fenton and S. Duke Han, 13 June 2022, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
DOI: 10.3233/JAD-220187

10 Comments on "Generosity Could Be an Early Sign of Alzheimer’s"

  1. Michael J Fouhy | July 19, 2022 at 7:33 pm | Reply

    Misleading headline. The article talks about being conned. The headline talks about generosity.

    • Colin Collins | July 19, 2022 at 8:15 pm | Reply

      “Each participant was informed in the lab that they had been matched with an online research participant who would remain anonymous. They were then given $10 and told to split it between themselves and the anonymous individual in $1 increments as they saw fit.

      Participants who gave more away scored significantly lower on the neuropsychological tests known to be sensitive to early Alzheimer’s disease.”

      If giving away money to a stranger isn’t generosity, I don’t know what you consider it to be.

  2. There was a time that altruistic kidney donation to a stranger was regarded as psychological abnormality!!! Now an acceptable act, longitudinal studies always need to be taken with a pinch of salt. How much “generosity” is too much and do we not become more sympathetic toward unfortunate members of our society as we gain more experience about harshness of life?

  3. Chris Steele | July 20, 2022 at 12:21 pm | Reply

    I have a theory myself on why people with early Alzheimer’s are more altruistic. When one feels they are loosing the ability to recall words and names one realizes that time is short and thus want to “make amends” for their mistakes in life and one way to do just that is giving to the poor i e almsgiving.

  4. Selfishness IS an American virtue after all…🤦‍♂️ way to write a headline scitechdaily…

  5. Perhaps, we should to stop consigning negative labels to naturally occurring phenomena… The prior comment’s correct.. from time immemorial, many people in the later stages of life have tended to share, or give away possessions to those (they know to be) less fortunate, & who may be in greater need of a helping hand…So too, a lot of older folks are quite comfortable about living on less…As we diminish physically we can grow more robust in spirit .. You can’t take it with you !

  6. I am an Expert Witness on legal cases related to Banking Fraud and Elder Financial Abuse. In my opinion, this study validates what I have observed in the “real world” of these cases. I generally defend Senior Citizens against the Banks that allowed fraudsters to deceive and steal the elder’s life savings. Banks are required to follow Federal Regulations & Guidelines to establish systems that that identify and prevent Elder Financial Abuse…unfortunately, some of the largest banks in the United States don’t comply and don’t protect senior citizens’ deposits. Elder Financial Abuse has been called the “Crime of the 21st Century”. Protect vulnerable Seniors from Abuse!

  7. Yes elderly do get taken advantage of and yes Alzheimer’s can contribute to that but if you get real with the heart and stop thinking everything is about science and everything can be studied and realize that God is real and truly alive and in the midst of everything then you might start to understand that when you get to a certain age you start to focus on more matters of the heart and wondering how true spiritual connection is and money no longer means anything it’s just something that comes and goes the world has changed so much that we have lost sight of the important things and as you get older you really get younger. Jesus said have faith like child.

  8. Humans all get old and tend to forget some things the older you get the more soft you become. Unless you set back and count money. Physical activity involving the mind is important the more physical activity the more your mind is active.

  9. Jimm Hoffman | July 27, 2022 at 6:07 am | Reply

    This scientist obviously conned an older person at the National Science Foundation into funding this vs reasearch… proving once again that many in the government are easily conned and therefore must be showing early signs of Alzhimers?

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