If you’ve been anywhere on the internet lately, you’re probably familiar with the jokes about gullible, elderly users who download computer viruses after clicking on malicious links telling them that they “WON A MILLION DOLLARS!!”. While they might give us a good chuckle, a recent study by researchers from Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago suggests that being easily scammed in old age is not a laughing matter, as it could be a sign of future cognitive decline, maybe even dementia.


The study

Researchers asked 935 older people who don’t have dementia to fill out a “scam awareness” questionnaire and gave them a “scam awareness score” based on their answers. They then followed up with the participants for an average of six years who had also undergone yearly testing for Alzheimer’s. Autopsies were also done on the brains of the 264 participants who died during the follow-up period.



Researchers found that low-scam awareness scores acted as a predictor of cognitive decline for the participants and were also associated with brain abnormalities that come as a result of Alzheimer’s. Because of this, they believe that low-scam awareness could be an early sign of future cognitive issues and dementia and that this means that evaluating people for it could help identify people at risk for these conditions.


Why does this matter?

In addition to possibly signaling a new way for us to spot age-related cognitive problems early on, this study, according to the author, could also be the wake-up-call healthcare systems and financial services industries and their regulators need to better protect the health and wealth of the elderly.

The author believes that this is important and describes the lowered financial independence of the aging population as well as the financial abuse and exploitation directed at them as public health issues. This is because if an older person is a victim of a scam, it could mean that they’re left unable to pay for food or healthcare.


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Written by Tesneem Ayoub