Step Up for Dementia Research

Latest news and research outcomes

Low scam awareness in older adults related to dementia

Friday, May 3rd, 2019

Do you usually listen to what telemarketers have to say?  Do you believe that if something sounds too good to be true, that it usually is? These were two of five questions presented to 935 dementia-free 76-86 year old research participants living in Chicago, and then totalled together to create a rudimentary score of scam awareness.  Every year, for the next two to nine years (about six years on average), the older adults also completed traditional neuropsychological tests of cognition.   Over the course of the study, 151 participants (or 16%) developed Alzheimer’s disease, and another 255 (or 34%) developed mild cognitive impairment.

Scam vulnerability related to toxic brain pathology

The researchers from Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Centre found that each one unit increase in “scam score” – indicating greater vulnerability to scams – was associated with a 60% increase in Alzheimer’s risk. A typical participant with low awareness of scams was about twice as likely to develop the condition or mild cognitive impairment than a participant with high scam awareness, even when adjusting for global cognitive function. Moreover, the 264 participants who passed away during the study period underwent brain autopsies. Low scam awareness was linked to higher burdens of amyloid beta plagues – proteins that clump together to cause cell death and one of the major hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

An early marker

Finding early cues could help with diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s disease promptly. One of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease is trouble with memory, yet this study identifies social judgment, or how we perceive and act on information about other people and social situations, as a possible target in recognising individuals at dementia risk before cognitive changes manifest.


The findings are notable, however there are some significant “buts”.   The scam awareness measure is brief and much more work is required to develop and validate it. For example, how does it relate to actual scam victimisation?  There is large gap between what we think about something and what we actually do. Certainly, the authors caution that the measure is not sensitive or robust enough to make specific predictions about individual persons. If an older adult falls for a scam, it does not mean they are on a path towards dementia.  Not all individuals in the study who showed low scam awareness went on to develop dementia.  At minimum, a tendency to listen to what telemarketers say, or difficulty ending the call to a telemarketer, might help to raise a red flag amongst family members, if it occurs within a broader pattern of thinking and behaviour changes.

This post is being shared from the Annals of Internal Medicine website – to read this and more articles in their original source click the link below:

The University of Sydney

Please note: This service is in the early implementation phase. Find out more.