Elders’ Brains and Scams

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Brains, like all human organs and body parts, wear down with age. As the population ages, as Boomers retire in droves and the sheer numbers of elders increase, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports from September 24, 2012 on a man in his eighties, without dementia, who started making a series of bafflingly bad financial decisions. Told he had won a contest and would get a prize if he sent in his money first, this patient of neurologist Murray Grossman, of the University of Pennsylvania, would wind up losing tens of thousands of dollars.

Why such weird behavior in a healthy, otherwise-mentally together elder?

The process of degeneration, a natural part of aging, plays havoc with the frontal lobes. Geriatrician and bioethicist Jason Karlawish, at the Penn Memory Center, reports growing interest in changes in judgment, though, as he says, “right now [these conditions] don’t map onto any disease.”

FINRA Investor Education Foundation and Stanford University Center on Longevity jointly launched the Research Center on the Prevention of Financial Fraud. In September 2012, the National Endowment for Financial Education met with researchers to lay the groundwork for a project on diminished financial capacity and cognitive decline.

As Brain in the News reports, “the aging brain remains a vast frontier.” Given current demographics in the West, this “vast frontier” is on such a scale as to effect the generations that follow: in other words, nearly everyone. The American Mental Health Foundation is keen to alert readers of this blog to a difficult and pervasive situation, which is separate from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

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