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Study examines decision-making deficits in older adults
Date:1/14/2008

We often read or hear stories about older adults being conned out of their life savings, but are older individuals really more susceptible to fraud than younger adults? And, if so, how exactly does aging affect judgment and decision-making abilities?

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."

Being able to identify how aging affects judgment and decision-making abilities could have broad societal implications. How to combat deceptive advertising targeted at older individuals -- some of whom appear to be particularly vulnerable to fraud -- is one important area of concern. In addition, older age is a time when individuals often are faced with many critical life decisions, including health care and housing choices, investment of retirement income, and allocation of personal wealth.

"By simply identifying a person as potentially vulnerable to fraud, family members can be more vigilant and can implement measures to protect the older adult," Denburg said. "In addition, a conservator or family member could be involved in transactions involving large amounts of money."

Denburg's most recent study, published Dec. 2007 in the Annals of the New York Acade
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Contact: Jennifer Brown
jennifer-l-brown@uiowa.edu
319-335-9917
University of Iowa
Source:Eurekalert

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