Innovative Study Will Explore Whether Hearing Loss Makes Seniors More Vulnerable to Scammers

While scammers target people of all ages, individuals 50 years and older are particularly vulnerable – especially if they have diminished sensory abilities or cognitive skills. Now, an innovative research project at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine will explore whether hearing loss adds to that vulnerability.

“Older adults with impaired hearing may be at a particularly high risk for scamming due to difficulty with fully processing complex demands under some circumstances,” said Sarah Getz, Ph.D., an instructor of neuropsychology in the Department of Neurology. “Hopefully, this will help to develop an intervention.”

Dr. Getz said some older adults become less sensitive to negative verbal cues from scam artists, leading them to make bad decisions. There is also an association between hearing loss and cognitive decline and dementia, as well as negative impacts on socialization, and increased incidents of depression and isolation.

Dr. Getz recently received a McKnight Clinical Translational Research Scholarship in Cognitive Aging and Age-Related Memory Loss for her study, which is funded by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation through the American Brain Foundation and the American Academy of Neurology. “I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude for being honored with this award as a young investigator,” said Dr. Getz. “My work will form the basis for developing multimodal interventions for those at highest risk for deception, as well as younger family members and other caregivers.”

Dr. Getz’s study is supported through a McKnight Inter-Institutional Cognitive Aging and Memory Intervention Core pilot grant, “Uncovering Risk Profiles of Deception and Mitigating Susceptibility to Scamming in Midlife and Older Age: A Novel Intervention Tool.” The project is a collaboration involving the McKnight centers at the University of Miami, the University of Florida, and the University of Arizona. Principal investigators at Miami are Dr. Getz and Bonnie Levin, Ph.D., the Alexandria and Bernard Schoninger Professor of Neurology and director of the Division of Neuropsychology.

“I am very excited about Dr. Getz’s research, which will bring more attention to this problem, particularly in the people with age-related hearing impairment,” said Tatjana Rundek, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging, scientific director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, executive vice chair of research and faculty affairs in neurology, director of the Clinical Translational Research Division in neurology, and director of the M.S. in Clinical and Translational Investigation.

“This research is very innovative and greatly aligns with the mission of our Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute to discover and mitigate cognitive, emotional, and neurobiological consequences of brain aging and improve brain health,” added Dr. Rundek.

Hearing loss represents a significant public health burden that disproportionately affects the aging population, said Hillary Snapp, Au.D., Ph.D., associate professor and chief of audiology in the Department of Otolaryngology. She will identify older people with mild to moderate hearing loss who will then be given cognitive assessments.

“Dr. Getz’s work to address the potential cognitive impairment to susceptibility for deception in the elderly is an important and timely topic,” said Dr. Snapp. “Understanding the relevant risk factors is a necessary step in addressing the growing problem of scamming in older adults.”

Tags: Dr. Bonnie Levin, Dr. Hillary Snapp, Dr. Sarah Getz, Dr. Tatjana Rundek, McKnight Brain Research Foundation