Posts Tagged ‘Old age’

Why Are Older People More Vulnerable to Fraud?

December 19, 2012

It is always depressing hearing a story about an elderly couple who have lost their entire life savings to a scam. But one also wonders how people with so many years of experience can fall for such a scam. One would think that as we age we would become less, not more, vulnerable. An article in a Special Section on Aging in the Washington Post1 provides some insight.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), up to 80% of scam victims are older than 65. The tendency of the elderly to accentuate the positive makes them easy marks according to the FTC and the FBI. According to social neuroscientist Shelly Taylor, “Older people are good at regulating their emotions, seeing things in a positive light, and not overreacting to everyday problems.”2 Taylor and her colleagues showed pictures of faces considered trustworthy, neutral, or untrustworthy to a group up of 119 older adults (aged 55 to 84) and 24 younger adults (aged 20 to 42). “Signs of untrustworthiness included averted eyes; an insincere smile that doesn’t reach the eyes; a smug, smirky mouth, and a backward tilt of the head.”3 Each face was rated on a scale from minus 3 (very untrustworthy) to 3 (very trustworthy). The results indicated that the untrustworthy faces were rated as significantly more trustworthy by the older subjects than by the younger ones.

The same researchers then performed the same test with new participants. However, this time the brains of the participants were imaged looking for differences in brain activity between the age groups. When the younger subjects were asked to judge whether the faces were trustworthy, the anterior insula became active. This activity increased during the sight of an untrustworthy face. However, older people showed little or no activation. According to Taylor the insula’s job is to collect information not about others, but about one’s own body, sensing feelings and the so-called gut instincts, and presenting that information to the rest of the brain. “It’s a warning bell that doesn’t seem to work as well in older people.” It appears that the optimistic tendency of the elderly might be overriding this warning signal.

It is curious to speculate as to why the elderly tend towards optimism. As we age, we close in on the prospect of our own death, and have likely experienced the passing of loved ones. Physical and cognitive problems are likely to present themselves. Social relationships can deteriorate and be lost, so loneliness can be a problem. An optimistic attitude can be quite helpful in coping with these difficulties. Nevertheless, the elderly need to realize that this optimistic attitude can make them vulnerable to fraud. See also the healthymemory blog posts, “Will Baby Boomers Be More Vulnerable to Scams?” and “The Distinctiveness Heuristic.” Enter “Optimism” in the search box to find more posts regarding optimism and its positive and negative merits.

1Norton, E. (2012). Why Older People Get Scammed, Washington Post, December 11, E4.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SuperAgers with a Super Memory

October 3, 2012

In a recent experiment1 SuperAgers were defined as individuals over 80 with episodic memory performance at least as good as normative values for 50- to 65-year olds. The performance of these SuperAgers was compared to two cognitively normal cohorts: age-matched elderly and 50- to 65-year olds. The brains of all three groups were compared using cortical morphometry.

With respect to memory performance, the SuperAgers performed better than both control groups (but the difference between the SuperAgers and the middle-age controls was not statistically significant, p>0.05). The sample consisted of 12 SuperAgers, 10 elderly controls, and 14 middle-age controls. The elderly control group performed significantly worse than the other two groups.

With respect to whole-brain cortical thickness elderly controls exhibited significant atrophy in the older cohort compared against the middle-aged controls in multiple regions across the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes, including medial temporal regions important for memory. However, the whole brain cortical thickness analysis comparing the SuperAgers with the middle-aged controls did not reveal significant atrophy in the SuperAgers.

With respect to the thickness of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the thickness of the SuperAgers was higher than both the Elderly Controls and the Middle-Aged Controls. Somewhat surprisingly, only the difference between the SuperAgers and the Middle-Aged controls was statistically significant (p<0.05). However, the likelihood of achieving statistical significance increases as sample size increases. Research has indicated that the cingulate constitutes a critical site of transmodel integration related to episodic memory, spatial attention, cognitive control, and motivational modulation. It is unclear whether the SuperAgers were born with a particularly thick cortex or whether they resisted cortical change over time.

The relationship between brain and memory is an interesting one. The notion that more brain equates to more memory is fairly common, but this finding needs to be placed in context. Alzheimer’s cannot be diagnosed conclusively until an autopsy has been done. The key signatures for the diagnosis are amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. But these same signatures have been found in autopsies of people WHO HAD SHOWN NO SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER’S WHEN THEY WERE ALIVE! So it would appear that these amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for Alzheimer’s.

I remember reading an article when I was in graduate school about someone who had hydroencephalocele, which is more commonly called “water in the brain.” As a result of this condition, this individual had only about 10% of the normal volume of cortex. Yet this person led a normal life and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in mathematics!

The plasticity of the brain is truly remarkable. Healthymemory believes that this plasticity is fostered by cognitive exercise and cognitive challenges. So, stay cognitively active and seek cognitive growth!

1Harrison, T.M., Weintraub, S., Mesulam, M.-M, & Rogalski, E. (2012). Superior Memory and Higher Cortical Volumes in Unusually Successful Aging, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 18, 1-5.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Exercise and Aging

July 15, 2012

There is evidence that training older adults in memory, processing speed, and reasoning skills produces substantial improvements in these skills. Moreover, these skills maintain over a number of years.1 Studies of retirement also provide additional evidence that cognitive exercise slows down the process of intellectual decay. Episodic memory is the memory of personal events. It is among the first cognitive abilities to show a decline with age. A study of the effects of retirement on episodic memory was conducted.2 It was conducted with two groups of men: one aged 50 to 54 and one aged 60-64. Twelve nations were ranked in terms of the persistence of employment into old age. If the percentage of men still working dropped by 90% from the 50 to 54 age group to the 60 to 64 age group (Austria and France) there was a 15% decline in episodic memory. If the percentage still working dropped by 25% (United States and Sweden) the decline was only 7%.

There is also correlational evidence from a study in the United Kingdom showing that an extra year of work is associated with a delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s on average by six weeks.3 These are just a few studies from a body of research showing that cognitive exercise builds a cognitive reserve that that delays the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Healthymemory Blog respects this defensive position, but advocates an offensive rather than a defensive approach in which the goal is to continue to grow and enhance cognition as we grow older.

1Ball, K., Berch, D.B., Heimers, D.F., Jobe, J.B., Leveck, M.D. Marsiske, M.,…Willis, S.L. (2002). Effects of cognitive training interventions with older adults. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 2271-2281. doi:10.1001/jama.288.18.2271.

2Adam, S., Bonsang, E., Germain, S., & Perelman, S. (2007). Retirement and Cognitive Reserve: A Stochastic Frontier Approach to Survey Data (CREPP Working Paper 2007/04). Liege, Belgium: Centre de Recherche on Economie et de la Population..


© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood

February 19, 2012

The results of the first national population-based investigation of the association between computer activity and cognitive performance across adulthood has been published.1 This study involved a large national sample (N = 2,671) of adults ranging from 32 to 84 years old. Cognition was assessed by telephone with the Brief Test of Adult Cognition.2 Executive function was assessed with the Stop and Go Switch Task.3 Individuals who used the computer frequently scored significantly higher than those who seldom used the computer. The variables of age, sex, education, and health status were statistically controlled so this result maintained across all these variables. Greater computer use was also associated with better executive function on a task-switching test. Again this result held up across the basic cognitive and demographic variables. So computer activity is associated with good cognitive function and executive control across adulthood and into old age. Individuals with low intellectual ability benefited even more from computer use.

Unfortunately, computer usage declines across age. Of course, the personal computer is a relatively new technology, one that was not available earlier in the lifespans of many. It is hoped that this will be less of a problem in the future for those who have had access to computer technology throughout their lives. There are issues with perceptual and motor decline as we age, and computer technology needs to accommodate them. It is not surprising that that people with lower income and less education are less likely to use computers. It would be good to develop programs for these people that provide not only ready access to computers, but also to training in their use.

And if you have a computer, use it, don’t lose cognitive functioning or executive control. The internet provides a good vehicle for cognitive growth. It includes a vast amount of transactive memory. The computer also provides a good means of interacting with your fellow humans, although it should not be the exclusive means of interacting with fellow humans.

1Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2010). The Association Between Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood: Use It So You Won’t Lose It? Psychology and Aging. 25, 560-568.

2Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2006). Telephone Assessment of Cognitive Function in Adulthood: The Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone. Age and Ageing, 35, 629-632.

3Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2008). Age Differences in Reaction Time in a National Telephone Sample of Adults: Task Complexity, Education, and Sex Matter. Developmental Psychology, 44, 1421-1429. doi:10.1037/a00128456

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Aging, Age-Related Cues, and a Healthy Memory

December 12, 2010

A recently published article1 provides evidence regarding the effect of our minds on our health as we age. The article presented the effects of a variety of age-related cues. The presence of these cues may prime diminished capacity; the absence of these cues may prime improved health. Here are their findings:

Women who think they look younger after having their hair colored/cut show a decrease in blood pressure and appear younger to independent raters who view their photographs in which their hair has been cropped out.

Clothing is an age-related cue and uniforms eliminate this age-related cue. Those who wear work uniforms have lower morbidity than than do those who earn the same amount of money and do not wear work uniforms.

Baldness cues old-age. Men who bald early see an older self and accordingly age faster. Prematurely bald men have an excess risk of getting prostate cancer and coronary heart disease than do men who do not prematurely bald.

Women who bear children later in life are surrounded by younger age-related cues. Older mothers have a longer life expectancy than do women who bear children earlier in life.

Large differences in ages between spouses result in age-incongruent cues. Younger spouses live shorter lives and older spouses live longer lives than do those in a comparison control group.

What has this to do with a healthy memory? The message here is that what we perceive in our minds affects our bodies. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that a positive young looking attitude will have a similar effect our our memories. So maintain a positive attitude. DO NOT ADMIT TO SENIOR MOMENTS. The memory you remember having is not as good as you thought it was. Memory failures occur at all ages. So do not assume and casually attribute memory failures to aging. Maintain a positive, youthful attitude as you age, and engage in proactive activities such as those advocated in this Healthymemory Blog.

1Hsu, L.M., Chung, J, & Langer, E.J. (2010). The Influence of Age=Related Cues on Health and Longevity. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(6), 632-648.

Is Dementia an Inevitable Part of Aging?

August 22, 2010

This blog post is another in the series inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 That book presents a table contrasting the way the brain once was regarded, the way it is presently regarded, and some conjectures about what tomorrow might hold. According to Brave New Brain in the past, Alzheimer’s Disease and loss of brain function were regarded as inevitable parts of aging. Although the awareness of the widespread plague of Alzheimer’s Disease is relatively knew, many if not most people regarded the loss of brain function as a normal part of aging. It was thought that just as the body wears out, the brain wears out.

According to Brave New Brain today it is believed that “active brains retain more function than inactive ones, even to some very elderly people.” Even as parts of the brain decline, the neuroplasticity of the brain results in the enlisting of other parts of the brain to compensate for this decline. The Healthymemory Blog post “HAROLD” discussed this compensation. An important part of the current belief is that active brains retain more function than inactive ones. That is, inactive brains do decline as a result of aging. So here the old belief maintains. If you are passive and mentally inactive you can expect to lose brain function. The brain is analogous to the body: use it or lose it.

According to Brave New Brain, in the future Alzheimer’s disease is reversible and curable in many cases. Let us hope that this is also true for other forms of senile dementia. The question is how far into the future will this be the case. Are all of us baby boomers safe. I’m afraid that already some of us baby boomers have succumbed. Will the tale end of the baby boomers be safe? Let’s hope that cures and effective treatments will be developed as soon as possible. Otherwise the effects will be truly devasting.

The good news is that we do have a fighting chance. Active brains retain more function than inactive ones. Although there is no absolute guarantee that an active brain will not succumb Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, but the odds of succumbing are decreased by staying mentally acted. Moreover, you have the option of increasing your mental activity. Even if a cure for dementia were found, and let us up that there will be a cure, keeping mentally active and growing cognitively are still worthy goals on their own. They should result in a richer, fuller life.

The Healthymemory Blog is devoted to promoting healthy mental activity. It has three themes. One is the provision of knowledge about how memory works and how it fails to work. And it offers remedies for these failures. The blog posts are found in the Memory: Theory and Data category. Another theme is the use of mnemonic techniques. These posts are found, appropriately enough, under the category of mnemonic techniques. These techniques not only provide a means of improving memory, but also provide exercise that keeps the brain active. It is recommended to start at the beginning, bottom of this category as techniques become more difficult as you advance upwards. The third theme is Transactive Memory. Blog posts under this category provide suggestions for using technology and other people not only to maintain cognitive health, but also to foster and extend cognitive growth well into old age.

1Horstman, J. (2010). San FranciscoJossey-Bass.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.