he vulnerable group showed greater atrophy than the control subjects
A recent study claims to have found why some people are more susceptible to fraud than others – and it lies in the chemistry of the brain.
Cornell University scientist Nathan Spreng led a team from Toronto’s York University who studied the brains of 26 older people, half of whom had been victims of fraud.
Family members were shown to be the biggest abusers in the group which had been exploited, with statistics showing overall nearly one in 20 elderly people can expect to be financially exploited after the age of 60.
One subject’s grandson stole from her and continued to do so even after she confronted him.
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Another participant’s daughter charged $2,000 (£1,604) to their account without permission, and one OAP’s son’s girlfriend borrowed $4,000 (£3,208) and never paid it back.
The other half of the study group had been exposed to a scam but had avoided being duped out of cash.
Mr Spreng said: “It's not their fault they've been abused. It's not because they made a bad decision.
Aparticipant’s daughter charged $2,000 (£1,604) to their account without permission
“There are biological reasons why these abuses have occurred, and we're trying to get a handle on that.
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"Older adults are having a harder time navigating these tough social situations.
“We need to start treating this as a medical problem and not a societal one.”
They don't have the same feeling of dread or disappointment
Using 45 tests the team measured the participants’ inhibitory control, personality traits, financial reasoning, memory and ability to pay attention to information and evaluate it.
The scientists found only superficial differences between the groups relating to anger and hostility from the more vulnerable group.
But when the scientists scanned their brains, they found significant differences.
Using 45 tests the team measured the participants’ brains
In the vulnerable group two areas of their brain differed from their peers, showing greater atrophy and less connectivity.
Those adults who had been previously exploited showed atrophy in areas which read social cues and situations, and in the region which signals when something is amiss in the immediate environment.
This area is generally less responsive in older people compared to younger ones, particularly in negative situations.
But the vulnerable group showed greater atrophy than the control subjects, meaning their brain was not informing them they were in a risky situation.
In addition both areas showed greater connectivity to each other in the exploited group, suggesting less awareness of financial risk combined with a reduced sense for detecting deceit and fraud which can leave some older people at risk of being scammed.
The age-related changes can leave these adults more prone to financial exploitation, Mr Spreng, who directs Cornell's Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, said.
The researcher hoped to conduct more studies to back up his findings
He said: “If older adults are, say, gambling, they get the same excitement that they might win something as younger adults do, but they don't have the same feeling of dread or disappointment for the losses.
"So, they're not as sensitive to losing money.”
The researcher hoped to conduct more studies to back up his findings, adding there was no time like the present as the older generation was currently the wealthiest ever.
He said: ”There's a huge amount of money locked up in our elders' assets. And people are actively pursuing them."