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TUESDAY, May 31, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who are lonely or unhappy with their relationships may be more vulnerable to scammers, new research suggests.

The study shows that "the quality of older adults’ interpersonal relationships has an impact on their financial vulnerability at a later time," said study co-author Duke Han, a professor of family medicine, neurology, psychology and gerontology at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

Having social connections may help guard against financial abuse, in addition to its other benefits, according to the research.

"This study points to a specific factor -- social functioning -- that could allow us to predict, and ultimately prevent, vulnerability to financial exploitation before it happens," said co-author Aaron Lim, a postdoctoral fellow in Han's research lab. Both Han and Lim spoke in a school news release.

The study included 26 adults, all at least 50 years old with an average age of 65. The researchers evaluated each participant's overall health, mental functioning, depression, anxiety and prior history of financial exploitation.

The team then collected data at two-week intervals for six months, measuring how well the participants' relationships were functioning. They did this by asking how frequently they had argued with someone, felt rejected, felt lonely, wished their relationships were better and wished they had more friends.

Questions to estimate vulnerability were also included, such as, "How confident are you in making big financial decisions?" and "How often has someone talked you into a decision to spend or donate money that you did not initially want to do?"

"When a person reported a spike in problems within their social circle or increased feelings of loneliness, we were much more likely to see a corresponding spike in their psychological vulnerability to being financially exploited two weeks later," Lim said.

These results may provide insight on how to protect against common scams, from phishing emails to calls in which a scammer pretends to be the recipient's grandchild in urgent need of money.

Lim suggested adult children and grandchildren watch for social upsets in their older loved ones' lives, including the death of a close friend or an argument with a family member, to help protect them during these vulnerable times. Organizations that support seniors can also provide additional opportunities for social connection.

The findings were published recently in the journal Aging & Mental Health.

More information

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has more on scams against older adults.

SOURCE: University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, news release, May 24, 2022

By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter

Published on May 30, 2022

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