January 14, 2008
Brain Aging Makes Elderly Easier Prey For Con Artists

Yet another reason why I don't want to grow old.

Recent work led by University of Iowa neuroscientist Natalie Denburg, Ph.D., suggests that for a significant number of older adults, measurable neuropsychological deficits do seem to lead to poor decision-making and an increased vulnerability to fraud. The findings also suggest that these individuals may experience disproportionate aging of a brain region critical for decision-making.

"Our research suggests that elders who fall prey to fraudulent advertising are not simply gullible, depressed, lonely or less intelligent. Rather, it is truly more of a medical or neurological problem," said Denburg, who is an assistant professor of neurology in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. "Our work sheds new light on this problem and perhaps may lead to a way to identify people at risk of being deceived."

Brain aging is gradual brain damage. Some people think aging is wonderful and natural. That's tantamount to saying that brain damage is wonderful and natural.

The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) seems like a handy test for large corporations to use to detect when their top executives should retire.

Denburg's most recent study, published Dec. 2007 in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, shows that 35 to 40 percent of a test group of 80 healthy older adults with no apparent neurological deficits have poor decision-making abilities as tested in a laboratory experiment known as the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). The IGT is a computerized decision-making test where participants draw cards from different decks with the aim of maximizing their winnings. Some of the decks yield good results in aggregate, while others yield poor outcomes.

When you feel your brain slipping stop watching TV advertising, throw out all junk mail, and hang up on all phone callers who are trying to sell you something. You will lose the ability to handle that stuff.

Following the poor decision-makers through several additional tests, the researchers found that in addition to the poor performance on the IGT, this subgroup of older adults also were more likely to fall prey to deceptive advertising.

Using a set of real advertisements that had been deemed misleading by the Federal Trade Commission and several counterpart, non-deceptive advertisements, the study showed that the poor decision-makers are much less able to spot inconsistencies and pick up on deceptive messages than good decision-makers. Poor decision-makers also were more likely to indicate an intention to buy the article advertised in the misleading advertisement. In contrast, there was no difference in comprehension of non-deceptive advertisements between the two groups of older adults.

Imagine a future era when routine brain scans as we age will warn us when our ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) begins to give out. At that point you'll become easy prey for con artists. Yet another reason why we should support the development of brain rejuvenation therapies as an urgent need.

Another group of patients who perform poorly on the IGT and have abnormal bodily responses to the test are individuals with acquired damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC) -- an area of the brain that appears to be critical for good decision-making.

"Our hypothesis is that older poor decision-makers have deficits in their prefrontal cortex," Denburg explained. "The next element of our study will be to complete structural and functional brain-imaging studies to see if we can identify differences between poor decision-makers and good decision-makers either in brain structure or in how the brain functions during decision-making tasks."

I hear Mick Jagger singing "What a drag it is getting old." If only we already had rejuvenation therapies he could make another album as great as Exile On Main Street.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 January 14 09:48 PM  Brain Aging

Brett Bellmore said at January 15, 2008 3:57 PM:

Not exactly brain rejuvination, but certainly allied, is this news:

Drug can reverse Alzheimer's symptoms

I wonder how risky it is; It might actually be worth trying far short of the severe impairment they tested it on.

Tj Green said at January 15, 2008 5:18 PM:

What would these people do when aging is stopped,will they lay in the sun all day so they can carry on aging their skin at least? Randall,when I press the link to Aubrey de grey,it takes me to Cambridge university not sens.org .

Randall Parker said at January 15, 2008 5:44 PM:


I'm with Mick Jagger: "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me."


Since Alzheimer's starts developing decades before diagnosed it would make sense to get dosed with an anti-Alzheimer's drug in your 40s or 50s. The brain scanning tools for detecting Alzheimer's plaque build-up years before diagnosis will make possible a decision on whether you need a drug to break down the accumulating plaque.

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