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Seniors face financial fraud. Does apathy play a role? UConn study aims to find out.

Illustration of man following his footsteps in circle; life concept

Is apathy the reason that older adults are more susceptible to financial fraud?

To find out, UConn Health’s Pepper Center is recruiting 90 participants in a pilot study — one group with depression (and its common symptom, apathy), another featuring people with depression but no apathy and a third will include people with neither depression nor apathy.

The goal is to test the hypothesis that apathy affects thinking and decision-making in people aged 60 and older and to develop interventions for financial independence.

“The reason we’re interested in apathy is we think about apathy as a potential early, early marker of later cognitive changes in older adults,” said Dr. Kevin Manning, a neuropsychologist and an associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health. “Older adults with apathy are also known to demonstrate poor judgment and impaired social understanding. So we think that those characteristics together might place them at greater risk of poor financial decision-making and scam susceptibility.”

But how does one get people with apathy to take interest and participate in a study?

Apathy is on a continuum, or a spectrum, Manning said. For instance, apathy – a symptom in patients with Alzheimer’s – is far more severe in people with a neurodegenerative disease than in those without.

“We know that apathetic patients are still interested in rewards,” he said. “They’re just not willing to give as much effort to get them.”

This means researchers must find ways to engage participants in cognitive testing.

“We want to know whether older adults with depression and apathy – do they demonstrate impairment on performance-based tests of financial capacity, compared to the control group and compared to other older adults who have just depression but no apathy,” Manning said.

Learn more

Participants will attend three in-person appointments in 2023, each lasting up to five hours. Activities include questionnaires completed at home once a month, interviews about mood and medical history, blood samples and tests of thinking and memory.

Compensation includes $50 at completion of the in-person assessments and an additional $30 for completion of the monthly assessments at least 10 times, for a total of up to $180 for the one-year study.

To enroll, contact Dr. Kevin Manning at manning@uchc.edu or Sarah Stevens at astevens@uchc.edu.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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