Falling for Online Scams May Signal Cognitive Impairment in Seniors


Getting duped by telephone or online scam artists who seek to separate people from their money could be a clue that a person is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of cognitive impairment, several recent studies have found.

In one study, published in 2019 in Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers followed 935 older men and women who were initially free of AD or other forms of dementia. Participants underwent various forms of annual cognitive testing, which included a “scam awareness” questionnaire that assessed how well they could spot and avoid tactics intended to deceive older people for financial gain.

Over the next six years, 151 subjects developed AD and 225 developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Those who had the lowest scam awareness score were around 50 percent more likely to develop AD and MCI. The studies of some of the subjects who died found that the brains of those most vulnerable to scams had the worst signs of AD-related damage.

If you know a senior who’s had misstep with an online scam, there’s no reason to panic; but it could be a sign that she or he should be evaluated for cognitive disorders by a doctor.