Getting scammed can be an early indicator that an older person is starting to experience cognitive decline, a new study suggests.
About a third of the over-85s have Alzheimer's disease. There is no cure and treatments to slow memory loss only work if a patient starts using them early.
But most people don't start losing their ability to remember things like names until the disease has progressed considerably.
Finding early evidence can be crucial for diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's as soon as possible.
In addition, the authors of the Rush University study in Chicago note that elderly fraud leads to the loss of $ 35 billion per year, so if we know how many people are at risk of such scams, we can better protect seniors who are at risk.
Elderly Americans who fall for telephone scams may have a two-fold risk of Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment, a new study suggests
Older people have long been considered easy targets for cons and fraud.
Perhaps the classic example is the so-called grandparent scam, where cheating artists make contact with the elderly and pretend to be grandchildren or other family members, and ask for financial help to cover the costs of a car accident or similar emergency.
Older populations generally have easier accessible cash and are seen as single, and therefore more likely to choose a telephone, even if it is from an unknown number.
But scientists have long suspected that there is something much more sinister than just focusing on & # 39; gullible & # 39; elderly people, when it comes to scamming.
And the new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, shows that vulnerability to disadvantages is an early symptom of cognitive decline and & # 39; precursor & # 39; of Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists at Rush University have heard more and more reports of parent fraud in recent years.
"Even cognitively intact older people fall prey to pretty hard to believe scams." Patricia Boyle on Daily Mail Online.
& # 39; We want to know if this tells us something about what's going on in the brain, or something that goes wrong. & # 39;
The researchers assessed how & # 39; scam aware & # 39; 935 were older Americans, and then followed their mental acuity for an average of six years.
They asked questions to gauge whether the participants knew that something & # 39; too good to be true & # 39; was, if they answered the telephone, even if it was an unknown number, and if it was difficult for them to hang up the telephone.
In the course of the following years, the participants' cognition was assessed with standard neuropsychiatric tests. Of the original participants, 264 died and their brains were autopsied for signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Significant links between scam awareness and both mild cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer's disease became clear to the researchers when comparing the resulting data.
In total, they found that those who were not scams were aware at about double the risk of either cognitive decline or Alzheimer's.
& # 39;[Scam awareness] includes multiple functions, cognition and to a certain extent, evaluating an offer or situation also includes emotional regulation and social understanding, ”says Dr. Boyle.
& # 39; Social judgment is a complex behavior that is probably supported by various networks and therefore [this function] may be vulnerable to early brain changes … suggesting that Alzheimer's disease and the associated change affect wider changes … than memory loss – it is much more complex. & # 39;
By the time memory loss occurs, Alzheimer's disease has already caused significant brain damage.
So paying attention to more subtle indicators – such as scam sensitivity – can help researchers identify patients at high risk much earlier and protect them in more than one way.
The new research suggests that many more older people may be vulnerable to both scammers and Alzheimer's than previously thought, Dr. Boyle said.
"We need to take measures to protect the wealth and health of our older adults," she added.