In more news about the financial abuse of seniors, CNN just published an article about an important study linking early dementia and susceptibility to telephone scams. So even if your older loved one seems cognitively healthy and normally exercises good judgment, falling prey to a phone scam may be an important wake-up call.
While younger people may generally be more tech-savvy and aware of the kinds of scams that are trending, elders tend to not be in the loop. So, when someone calls claiming to be a grandson in jail on a Caribbean island needing bail money, or a computer pop-up says to call with your credit card number so the vicious attack on your computer files can be stopped, an older person may believe the story.
According to the new research, though, vulnerability to scamming can be more than just not being technologically up to date. Mild cognitive impairment may impact the ability to make good judgments before memory issues are obvious.
The head author is Dr. Patricia Boyle, a neurological psychologist at Rush University in Chicago. Her study observed 935 seniors over about six years each. They initially completed a form probing for awareness of phone scams and underwent annual neuropsychological testing. Those who passed away during the research had brain autopsies.
By the numbers
- During the study, 16.1% got an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis.
- During the study, 34.2% displayed mild cognitive impairment.
- Those whose questionnaires indicated low awareness of phone scamming were at higher risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- The same group with little fraud awareness was “associated with” plaque and other biological symptoms of Alzheimer’s in autopsies.
Boyle said that making a judgment about whether to trust someone requires “social cognition” or “social judgment,” a complex thought process requiring a “diverse array of functions.” She added that growing research shows that challenges with social cognition involving financial decisions and other related areas happen before more obvious signs like poor memory.
Take protective steps
A Chicago geriatric doctor interviewed for the article noted that the new research underscores the need for earlier and regular testing for mild cognitive decline. This would allow families to put protections in place before cognitive impairment causes harm to the individual.
In addition, talk to elders about the prevalence of phone scams targeting older individuals.