Mild Cognitive Impairment and Susceptibility to Scams in Old Age

Authors:  Duke Han, Rush University Medical Center and VA Long Beach Healthcare System; Patricia Boyle, Rush University Medical Center; Bryan James, Rush University Medical Center; Lei Yu, Rush University Medical Center; David Bennett, Rush University Medical Center

Publication: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease

Year: 2015

Focus Area: 2000 to present, Aging, Decision Making, Victim Profiling

Relevance: A greater understanding of the factors that impact susceptibility to scams in old age is an urgent and important public health concern. Elders with MCI, typically show no impairments in functional activities of daily living, but if older adults with MCI show greater susceptibility, it implies that the diagnoses affects a broader range of behaviors and has important implications for clinicians who treat these older patients. This study extends the findings from an earlier study that found greater susceptibility to scams in older adults without cognitive impairment.

Summary: This study involved 730 participants recruited from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a community-dwelling sample of adults. The mean age of the overall sample was 81.8 years.

  • For assessment of susceptibility to scams, participants rated their agreement with five statements that address topics such as suspiciousness of claims that seem too good to be true, being targeted by con-artists, and telemarketing behaviors. A battery of 21 cognitive measures was administered.
  • The researchers found that the presence of MCI was associated with greater susceptibility to scams which was equivalent to the effect of more than 5 additional years of age.
  • Among the domains of cognition that were evaluated, episodic memory and perceptual speed were associated with susceptibility to scams in older adults with MCI.

Author Abstract: Background: Falling victim to financial scams can have a significant impact upon social and financial wellbeing and independence. A large proportion of scam victims are older adults, but whether older victims with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are at higher risk remains unknown. Objective: We tested the hypothesis that older persons with MCI exhibit greater susceptibility to scams compared to those without cognitive impairment. Methods: Seven hundred and thirty older adults without dementia were recruited from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a community-based epidemiologic study of aging. Participants completed a five-item self-report measure of susceptibility to scams, a battery of cognitive measures, and clinical diagnostic evaluations. Results: In models adjusted for age, education, and gender, the presence of MCI was associated with greater susceptibility to scams (B = 0.125, SE = 0.063, p-value = 0.047). Further, in analyses of the role of specific cognitive systems in susceptibility to scams among persons with MCI (n = 144), the level of performance in two systems, episodic memory and perceptual speed abilities, were associated with susceptibility. Conclusions: Adults with MCI may be more susceptible to scams in old age than older persons with normal cognition. Lower abilities in specific cognitive systems, particularly perceptual speed and episodic memory, may contribute to greater susceptibility to scams in those with MCI.

Link to the full article.