Older adults are often targeted by con-artists and are highly vulnerable to scams and fraud, particularly scams that are financial in nature. Now a new study finds that older adults who easily fall for these scams may be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia or mild cognitive impairment.
The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest that changes in social judgment may occur before any obvious changes in thinking or memory.
Researchers from Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago asked 935 dementia-free older adults to complete a “scam awareness questionnaire” to calculate a scam awareness score. For approximately 6 years, participants also completed traditional neuropsychological tests each year, and the 264 participants who died had an autopsy of the brain to look for the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
The research team found that low scam awareness was a predictor of poor cognitive outcomes. Low scam awareness was also linked to Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain. According to the researchers, the findings suggest that low scam awareness is an early sign of impending mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
The researchers conclude that screening for behaviors such as scam awareness may help to identify people at risk for dementia before cognitive symptoms begin to surface.
An older adult who is defrauded may end up unable to pay for medications, food, and long-term care, the author wrote. The author provides an example of a patient who was scammed out of the majority of his life savings by a con-artist who tricked him into thinking he had won the lottery.
Reduced financial capacity, financial abuse and exploitation are major economic and public health problems. As such, the new findings should be a call to action for health care systems, the financial services industry and their regulators to protect the health and wealth of our aging population.
Source: American College of Physicians