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When was the last time you had a financial discussion with your doctor? Or a health conversation with your bank?

Probably never, says Joanne Hsu, of the University of Michigan. After all, our money and health aren’t subjects that normally intersect. But according to the university researcher, it may be time to intertwine the two conversations more.

A study she and a physician at the college recently published found an unnerving association between those suffering from dementia and their financial transactions.

Hsu discovered in interviews with doctors and those that work with elders they weren’t surprised by the link that those diagnosed with memory loss disorder also tend to forget to pay their bills. Her research found symptoms of cognitive decline show up years before a person is diagnosed with dementia.

That could have profound implications for helping the elderly manage their money – the group often victimized by online and phone scams.

“While we think of Alzheimer’s as something that affects your memory, your ability to recognize family members, in fact one of the first skills to deteriorate under Alzheimer’s is your ability to manage money,” said Hsu.

The study tracked 90,000 older adults over a 20-year period. Hsu and Dr. Kenneth Langa looked at health records and credit scores, insurance and Medicare claims.

“You can start seeing the separation in these big data sets where we’re tracking people’s credit ratings and things like that. They seem to start getting different up to seven years before, which I think was surprising,” said Langa.

In other words, that’s seven years of credit card or mortgage payments being missed before anyone in the household or extended family is aware something is wrong. The results can be catastrophic for relatives.

The question then moves to: What can we do with this information?

“There were early signs and if you can get your family together to come up with some kind of plan on how you want to manage the fiances and even better to get yourself to a doctor a little bit earlier, then there are lots of interventions,” Hsu said. “Both on the health side as well the financial side.”

The research also points to another barrier: privacy.

“At this time, there isn’t really any way for a bank, for example, to alert a doctor that we’re seeing some strange transactions here that might signal some diminished capacity to make judgments about your finances,” Hsu said.

“We do want to prevent these financial nightmares and exploitation and scams so I do think there’s more policy discussions going on at the state and federal levels and in the finance world,” Langa added. “And I do think this article has added to some of the information and maybe moved these discussions along.”

The study was published by the federal reserve and according to the research, nearly 12 million people will be affected by some form of dementia by the year 2050.