Senior’s weakness for scams may be warning sign of dementia
WASHINGTON (AP) — Does an older friend or relative have a hard time hanging up on telemarketers? Or get excited about a “You’ve won a prize” voicemail? New research suggests seniors who aren’t on guard against scams also might be at risk for eventually developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Elder fraud is a huge problem, and Monday’s study doesn’t mean that people who fall prey to a con artist have some sort of dementia brewing.
But scientists know that long before the memory problems of Alzheimer’s become obvious, people experience more subtle changes in their thinking and judgment. Neuropsychologist Patricia Boyle of Rush University’s Alzheimer’s disease center wondered if one of the warning signs might be the type of judgment missteps that can leave someone susceptible to scams.
“When a con artist approaches an older person, they’re looking for a social vulnerability — someone who is open to having a conversation with a complete stranger,” said Boyle. Then the older person must interpret that stranger’s intentions and emotions, with little else to go on, in deciding whether to believe what they’re peddling, she explained.
Boyle turned to data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which operates a fraud “risk meter,” to determine behaviors that could signal scam vulnerability — things such as answering the phone when you don’t recognize the number, listening to telemarketers, finding it difficult to end unsolicited calls, being open to potentially risky investments and not realizing that seniors often face financial exploitation.