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The interactions between ageing, cognition and financial health have been of growing interest to economists and public health researchers. We’re living longer, and that means greater numbers of people will experience cognitive decline. Older adults have major financial decisions to make including retirement, superannuation and  investments, at times when they may have some level of cognitive impairment, and must live with the consequences of those choices for longer than ever before. That becomes more complex when you factor in the effects on your partner.  

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology designed a study to investigate how the declining cognition of one partner might affect the financial situation of the other.

Researchers recruited married couples aged 60 or over. Participants were tested for their overall cognitive score, their own and their partner’s level of cognitive decline over the past decade, and their financial competency and decision-making (by being presented with hypothetical scenarios where they had to make short calculations to decide the most favourable option).

There were 63 husband-wife couples included in the study with an age range of 60-88 years. Husbands were typically older than their wives and had lower cognition overall.

Researchers found that when women thought their husband had declined cognitively, they were more likely to carry out financial tasks and choices – indicating that they were successfully compensating for their partner’s behaviour. But the same relationship wasn’t seen when the sexes were switched. The authors say this compensating behaviour could be important to the financial health of married couples in older age.

Typically there’s a divide and conquer approach to finances – with men making decisions about things like investments and women making decisions about more day-to-day financial concerns. But the researchers warn this old-school pattern, could have harmful consequences where one partner has significant cognitive decline and the other is unable to adapt and compensate for the lost knowledge and ability to service that area of a couple’s finances.


Further information

Cognition and financial decision-making in older adult spouses:

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