How our aging brains fail us.

aging brainWhile caring for two parents with different forms of dementia, I tried to understand how I could better help them. In doing so, I also found a ton of research about the how and why we may not recognize our own failings when it comes to managing our finances and day-to-day lives.


What I finally came to learn was that my parents were unable to perceive they were making poor decisions and just yearned for independence and control over their own lives.


Turns out, that our aging brains make us more vulnerable as we age. We perceive people as more trustworthy. I would have thought the school of hard knocks would actually make us trust people less. Apparently that is not what the science tells us. 

You can read the full report: Neural and behavioral bases of age differences in perceptions of trust.  In summary:


“Older adults are disproportionately vulnerable to fraud, and federal agencies have speculated that excessive trust explains their greater vulnerability. Two studies, one behavioral and one using neuroimaging methodology, identified age differences in trust and their neural underpinnings. Older and younger adults rated faces high in trust cues similarly, but older adults perceived faces with cues to untrustworthiness to be significantly more trustworthy and approachable than younger adults. This age-related pattern was mirrored in neural activation to cues of trustworthiness. Whereas younger adults showed greater anterior insula activation to untrustworthy versus trustworthy faces, older adults showed muted activation of the anterior insula to untrustworthy faces. The insula has been shown to support interoceptive awareness that forms the basis of “gut feelings,” which represent expected risk and predict risk-avoidant behavior. Thus, a diminished “gut” response to cues of untrustworthiness may partially underlie older adults’ vulnerability to fraud.”


I am seeing how some unscrupulous home services vendors are taking advantage of older adults. An elderly neighbor paid a plumber over $7,000 for some minor repairs that were later assessed to cost around $1,200 by a Master Plumber. He had no idea that the work should not cost that much until he showed me the invoices. He lives on his own and was just trying to keep his home in good repair. Unfortunately, there are no protections in the Commonwealth of Virginia against predatory pricing … nor in many states. Once you sign the agreement and they do the work, there is little you can do. 

There may come a time when we might need someone to at least bounce things off of. At minimum, it will help to always ask for at least two bids for any work estimates over $500. That little extra effort may save you thousands of dollars. 

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