Giving Away More Money Could Be Linked with Alzheimer’s in Older Adults

We’ve all received scam calls and emails with made up stories to get money or personal information from us. While many people recognize these as scams, others don’t. Researchers at the University of Southern California investigated what makes people more apt to fall victim to such calls, and they found early Alzheimer’s could play a role.

A study out of USC’s Keck School of Medicine had 67 older adults complete a task in which they decided whether to give money to an anonymous person or to keep it for themselves. Along with this, the participants underwent cognitive tests. The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, showed that those who scored worse on cognitive tests were more apt to give money to others. As poor performance on these tests can be a sign of Alzheimer’s, the team says this tendency to give away money could be linked to the disease.


Dr. Duke Han, senior author and director of neuropsychology in the Department of Family Medicine, says, “Our goal is to understand why some older adults might be more susceptible than others to scam, fraud or financial exploitation. Trouble handling money is thought to be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.”

The current study reinforced the findings of earlier research that involved asking older adults about scenarios in which they’d give away money. Those were self-reported responses, however. This one involved real money.

In this study, participants – who were an average age of 69 – were told they’d been paired with an anonymous person completing the study online. They were then given $10 and told they could split it in any way between themselves and the other person, in $1 increments. They also took cognitive tests measuring story and word recall.


Those who gave more to the other person had much lower scores on the tests known to be sensitive to early Alzheimer’s disease, though there were no sizable differences on the other tests.

The team is now doing further research to see if some adults could be becoming more altruistic over time, or if this increased giving is linked to Alzheimer’s. The hope is that they can learn the differences between healthy giving behavior and when it could be a sign of health issues.

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


If scientists can determine when it’s more serious, though, it could be another tool in diagnosing Alzheimer’s and getting patients the resources they need sooner.

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