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Research Update On The Exploitable Brain

At “Stopping Financial Exploitation” Conference

photo of bonnie levin, researcher and speaker on the exploitable brain and financial exploitationTopic: Examining key clinical parameters associated with differential rates of cognitive decline, and how these indicators may someday predict cognition and vulnerability to financial exploitation.  Or, how aging can put one at risk for poor decision-making and vulnerability for being scammed.

Presented by Bonnie Levin, Ph.D.
Bernard and Alexandria Schoninger Professor of Neurology
Director, Division of Neuropsychology
University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine

Dr. Levin was a presenter at the “Stopping Financial Exploitation-Florida On The Forefront” conference in Gainesville on Nov. 15. Shannon Miller served as the Chair.

The conference brought together experts on vulnerability and financial exploitation from various fields, including legal, medical, legislative and governmental, capped off by a keynote speech from a national radio program host / investigative journalist.  This one-day event included profiles of victims of exploitation, exposing the sophistication of scams and the hidden costs to victims, who often suffer far more than financial loss. The overarching theme was the review of past challenges, sharing of current successes, and exploration of future opportunities to prioritize protection of Florida’s vulnerable and elderly population from financial exploitation.

This event was sponsored by:

  • The Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar
  • Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys
  • Elder Care of Alachua County
  • Elder Options
  • North Central Florida Senior Advocacy Network

Watch the conference video.  Below is an overview of Dr. Levin’s presentation.

The Exploitation Problem in Florida

Financial exploitation is at epidemic levels and Florida is the scam capital of US. Why?

  • Net migration of older adults into Florida is the highest in nation
  • More seniors are living on a fixed income for 20 years or more
  • Florida ranks lowest on spending for aging services
  • Florida is among states with highest number of seniors living in poverty
  • Florida has the second highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease

Risk Factors Associated With Scamming and Financial Exploitation

  • Financially vulnerable
  • Risk takers and financially secure
  • Age: 50 and older
  • Gender: Male
  • Emotionally vulnerable: loneliness is the biggest risk factor; also stress and anxiety
  • Sensory impairments
  • Cognitively impaired
  • Overconfident investors
  • Less educated

Why Age Makes Us Vulnerable To Scamming and Deception

  • Decline in general processing skills relevant for decision making
  • Increased social isolation
  • Increased trusting behavior
  • Reduced sensitivity to negative arousal cues
  • Hearing loss. Over half of those over 75 have hearing loss, only hear parts of conversations and make poor decisions
  • One third of those 65 and over have a census defined disability. Ambulatory/frail, hearing difficulty, independent living difficulty.
  • Caregiver burden; because they are carrying a heavy burden and are stressed, they become susceptible to scams as well as those they are caring for.

Steps We Are Taking To Prevent Scams

At the University of Miami, Dr. Levin and Sarah Getz, Ph.D. are using an assessment tool called Assessment of Situation Judgment (ASJ) to study susceptibility to scamming, cognition, mood/emotional well-being, affective and psychological well being, knowledge and use of computers, frailty/activities of daily living, and how they make decisions in their ability to detect scams.

This novel instrument uses actual FBI scams in Florida identified by the Florida Division of Consumer Services with nine different scenarios including bank scams, grocery/lottery scam, and 7 others.

Participants are college educated, women, 31% live alone, 80% use social media, report their friends have been a victim of a scam (but not them although they have been taken advantage of and realized it was a scam), and believe they know enough to prevent a scam.

Although the research needs to continue for a larger database of results, we will continue to educate families, attorneys, lawmakers, and other stakeholders until we have stopped exploitation and the pain and suffering of its victims.

Dr. Levin’s Background

Dr. Bonnie Levin is the Alexandria and Bernard Schoninger Professor of Neurology and Director of the Division of Neuropsychology in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine. She received her BS from Georgetown University and her PhD from Temple University. She completed an internship at the Boston Children’s Hospital where she was a clinical fellow in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an externship at the Boston VA Hospital.

Dr. Levin is a neuropsychologist whose research examines neurocognitive and affective changes associated with neurodegenerative disease and the normative aging process. Her work examines the role of cardiometabolic risk factors in cognitive decline. Another focus has been the inter-relationship between behavioral and motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease and the neural circuitry underlying memory and age related cognitive change. Her current work is aimed to advance our understanding of frontal striatal circuit function in cognition and to generate data that will improve our knowledge of key clinical parameters associated with differential rates of cognitive decline. Current projects include: examining which components of the metabolic syndrome predict cognition, identifying imaging and clinical correlates of white matter changes associated with the aging process and linking structural and metabolic markers underlying different symptom profiles in neurodegenerative disease.


How The Miller Elder Law Firm Can Help

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