Q.: I can't believe Uncle Tom, a retired college economics professor, was the victim of a telephone scam for the second time in 18 months. He's 82 and is able to live alone in his own home, but I've had to spend a lot of time with the police while unraveling the messes. I am very frustrated with Uncle Tom, but I also know he feels bad about it. What can I do?
A.: Don't be too hard on Uncle Tom. Senior scams have become big business. That's why the Home Instead Senior Care network and the nonprofit National Association of Triads recently launched a public information program to educate families and seniors about protecting themselves from scam artists who are specifically targeting the elderly. The Protect Seniors from Fraud program provides family caregivers with a number of tools at a website, ProtectSeniors FromFraud.com. Its features could be a big help to you and your uncle.
The question remains: Why are seniors so prone to being scammed?
According to researchers at the University of Iowa, seniors are vulnerable because a specific area of the brain has deteriorated or is damaged.
By examining patients with various forms of brain damage, the researchers report they have pinpointed the precise location in the brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that controls belief and doubt.
"The current study provides the first direct evidence beyond anecdotal reports that damage to the vmPFC (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) increases credulity," researchers said in the paper published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. "This specific deficit may explain why highly intelligent vmPFC patients can fall victim to seemingly obvious fraud schemes."
Apart from being damaged, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex begins to deteriorate as people reach age 60 and older, although the onset and the pace of deterioration varies, said Daniel Tranel, neurology and psychology professor at the University of Iowa and corresponding author on the paper.
He said the finding will enable doctors, caregivers and relatives to be more understanding of decision-making by seniors.
Seniors like Uncle Tom could benefit from a second set of eyes and ears. Home Instead CAREGivers are always on the lookout for potential scams that target senior clients.
A CAREGiver could help Uncle Tom screen phone calls and deal with questionable pieces of mail as well as providing light housekeeping, meal preparation, medication reminders, companionship and transportation for such things as medical appointments and grocery shopping.
For more information, contact DeLauter at 866-522-6533 or go to www.homeinstead.com.
The Home Instead Senior Care network's 2012 Family Caregiver Support Web Seminar Series features monthly seminars for family caregivers on a variety of topics that can help them care for their aging loved ones. Learn more at Caregiverstress.com/familyeducation.
DeLauter is the owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Lewisburg, which serves Union, Snyder, Northumberland, Lycoming, Clinton, Montour and Columbia counties.