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Study: Brain Changes Could Leave Some Elderly Vulnerable to Financial Scams

by John Gomez | Last Updated: April 22, 2017

Elder financial abuse is a problem that’s getting worse instead of better.  Unfortunately, elder financial abuse will likely continue to get worse as the population of the United States collectively ages.  People from all walks of life have been trying to find ways to bring a stop to this problem before it spirals out of control.  Some experts have looked at the people furthering these scams.  Others have looked at the laws and regulations regarding these situations in hopes of finding ways to allow third parties to step in and help.  There have even been studies done that attempt to define a source of vulnerability in American seniors with regards to financial abuse.  A recently published study attempts to dig deeper into the vulnerability issue by studying the brain of older Americans, some of whom have been targets of financial scams.

About the Brain-Related Financial Scams Study

Researchers included 26 subjects in the study.  Each of them was older.  13 of the subjects had been targets of financial scams and had lost money as a result.  Seven members of that group were female.  13 of the subjects had been targeted for financial scams but had successfully avoided being victimized.  Seven of those subjects were also women.  The researchers administered 45 different behavioral tests to all of the subjects.  These behavioral tests measured several aspects of brain function, including:

  • Personality
  • Memory
  • Attention span
  • Social functioning
  • Mood
  • Financial reasoning

The researchers also administered MRI scans on each of the subjects.  The researchers only found one basic difference between the two groups in terms of behavior.  That difference was that the group that had been exploited by financial scams displayed more anger and hostility in general than those who had not.  However, the MRI scans uncovered what could be important differences in two areas of the brain along with two other structural differences.  These differences could someday prove to be an indicator of someone who may be vulnerable to financial scams as they age.

The Differences In the MRIs

Specifically, the researchers found four potentially important differences when comparing the brain structures of the two groups.  Each is briefly described below:

  1. The Anterior Insula – The MRI scans showed that the group that had been exploited by financial scams had thinning in their anterior insula.  The anterior insula is a part of the brain that helps to signal if something significant is happening.  If that area of the brain is compromised, it’s possible that people would not necessarily recognize when they are being scammed.
  2. The Medial Prefrontal Cortex – There has been some debate as to the specific functions of the medial prefrontal cortex, but many believe that a key role it plays is to help people obtain an understanding of others’ intentions.  In short, it would also signal to people that they may be hearing something that could be harmful to them.
  3. Functional Connectivity – The researchers found that the functional connectivity within these regions of the brain was reduced.  That means that signals in the brain were not transmitting as well when compared to the group that had not been scammed.
  4. Between-Network Connectivity – The researchers also found that the connectivity between these parts of the brain was increased when compared to the non-exploited group.  This finding suggests the potential for problems understanding situations quickly.

What It All Means

Those who would like to review the study can find it here.  The researchers themselves stated that this was a very small study, as it included only 26 subjects.  However, the researchers also strongly suggested that additional studies be done in order to find out more about the possible differences in brain structure between people who have been exploited and those who have not.  If it turns out that this finding is an indicator of vulnerability to financial scams, it could help people in this position understand this vulnerability before they are targeted and ultimately exploited.

Financial Elder Abuse Statistics

As stated above, financial elder abuse in the United States is getting worse, not better.  Part of the reason for that is because we are improving on the whole in terms of recognizing and reporting elder financial abuse.  As of now, most agree that older Americans lose billions of dollars every year because of different financial scams.  According to True Link Financial, older Americans lost more than $36 billion to financial scams or other misdeeds in 2015 alone.  Things have gotten so bad that the same research indicates that 1 million older Americans skip meals because of the effects of financial scams.

Who Engages in Elder Financial Abuse?

When people hear about elder financial abuse, they tend to think of different types of financial scams that are in fact common and that tend to receive a lot of attention.  Examples of these types of scams include:

  • Phone scams, such as calling a senior and claiming to be a representative of Medicare and asking for financial information.
  • Online scams, such as emailing an elderly person and asking for some urgent form of financial help.
  • In-person scams, including those where ‘in the neighborhood’ repairmen come to the door and offer to repair some part of an older person’s home.

Unfortunately, as we learn more about who engages in this behavior, we are learning that a large percentage of people who try to take money from older people are those who the target already knows and in some cases know quite well, or so it would seem.  These include family members, friends and caregivers among others.

How San Diego Elder Abuse Lawyers Can Help

The more everyone knows about financial scams that are used on the elderly, the more likely it becomes that we will recognize warning signs when they arise.  Unfortunately, this is not going to stop all of the mistreatment that occurs.  If you discover that a loved one has been exploited or you have been exploited, you need to take immediate action to enforce your legal rights.  Contact the San Diego elder abuse lawyers who have been standing up for the rights of those wrongfully harmed for more than a decade.  Contact Gomez Trial Attorneys today for a free case evaluation.

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