Some elderly adults may be more susceptible to fraud because of changes in their brain that affect judgment and decision-making, researchers said on Tuesday.
In a series of tests they tried to identify common traits among seniors who had difficulty making decisions and spotting anything misleading to determine what makes them vulnerable to deception.
"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 Natalie Denburg, a neuroscientist at the University of Iowa.
"Our work sheds new light on this problem and perhaps may lead to a way to identify people at risk of being deceived," she added in a statement.
Denburg and her colleagues studied 80 healthy seniors with no apparent neurological problems to see how they make decisions. Their findings were published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Up to 40 percent of the seniors performed poorly in a computerized decision-making test. The same sub-group was also less likely than other adults to detect misleading advertising and they showed abnormal bodily responses, such as sweating, while making decisions.
Denburg said another group of adults who did not do well on the computerized test and had abnormal responses had suffered damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is crucial in making decisions.
"Our hypothesis is that older poor decision-makers have deficits in their prefrontal cortex," she explained.
The researchers are planning to do structural and functional brain-imaging studies to see if they can identify differences in the brain structure or how it functions in poor and good decision makers.