Financial Scam Victims More Likely to Develop Alzheimer’s
By Grace Austin
As the problem of elder fraud grows across the country, a new study shows a potential correlation between financial scam victims and developing Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to researchers at Rush University Medical Center.
For the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers gave scam awareness questionnaires to nearly 1000 elderly people, mostly in their 70s and 80s. The participants didn’t have dementia at the time.
People were asked how open they were to sales pitches, their interest in risky investments, and whether they were aware that elderly people can be more susceptible to scams.
The latter behaviors often show fraud vulnerability—things like listening to telemarketers and finding it difficult to end such calls and answering phone calls from unknown numbers or people.
The researchers then followed up annually every six years, with almost 20 percent of respondents developing Alzheimer’s, and more than a quarter having some kind of cognitive impairment, which can often be a forerunner to dementia.
In addition, brain autopsies were done on people who died during the study, which was about 250 participants. People with lower scam awareness ended up having more sticky plaque in their brains, a main symptom of Alzheimer’s.
Scientists say that a subtle change in cognitive impairment like a lower scam awareness could show warning signs of dementia-related diseases.
“Decreased scam awareness may be a very early sign of Alzheimer’s disease — one that is present well before cognitive symptoms are recognizable,” said lead study author Patricia Boyle of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush, which is based in Chicago, Illinois.
While there isn’t a direct link between getting scammed and having dementia, it does show the need for more awareness about elder fraud and seniors’ vulnerability.
Researchers suggest that family members and caregivers should keep a close eye on how elderly people manage their money in order to prevent them from getting conned. Having an additional contact on senior citizens’ financial accounts can safeguard against such action.
That’s because predators see the elderly as an excellent target. According to the FBI, seniors are attractive marks since they’re more likely “to have a ‘nest egg,’ to own their home, and to have excellent credit.” And memory impairment can make the elderly less-reliable witnesses for scams, meaning con artists are more likely to get away with their crimes.
And seniors may not always report fraud because of a potential link to mental deterioration. Alzheimer’s Association vice president Beth Kallmyer told the Associated Press recently that seniors could fear family members might think they were duped because of health problems.
Telemarketing scams are a major way con artists go after the elderly. So, seniors are encouraged to simply not answer calls or emails from people they don’t know.