Background: Decreased scam awareness may be an early indicator of impending Alzheimer dementia and its precursor, mild cognitive impairment, but prior studies have not systematically examined the associations between scam awareness and adverse cognitive outcomes.
Objective: To test the hypothesis that low scam awareness is associated with increased risk for incident Alzheimer dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer disease pathology in the brain.
Design: Prospective cohort study of aging.
Setting: Community-based study in the greater Chicago metropolitan area.
Participants: 935 older persons initially free of dementia.
Measurements: Scam awareness was measured via questionnaire, incident Alzheimer dementia and mild cognitive impairment were documented in detailed annual cognitive and clinical evaluations, and Alzheimer disease neuropathology was quantified after death among a subset of persons who died (n = 264). Proportional hazards models examined associations between scam awareness and incident Alzheimer dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Regression models examined associations between scam awareness and Alzheimer disease pathology, particularly β-amyloid burden and tau tangle density.
Results: During a mean of about 6 years (SD, 2.4) of observation, 151 persons (16.1%) developed Alzheimer dementia. Low scam awareness was associated with increased risk for Alzheimer dementia (hazard ratio [HR], 1.56 [95% CI, 1.21 to 2.01]; P < 0.001), such that each 1-unit increase in scam score (indicating lower awareness) was associated with about a 60% increase in dementia risk. Low scam awareness was also associated with increased risk for mild cognitive impairment (HR, 1.47 [CI, 1.20 to 1.81]; P < 0.001). These associations persisted even after adjustment for global cognitive function. Finally, low scam awareness was associated with a higher burden of Alzheimer pathology in the brain, particularly β-amyloid (estimated increase [±SE] in β-amyloid per 1-unit increase in scam score, 0.22 ± 0.10 unit; P = 0.029).
Limitation: The measure of scam awareness used here is too weak for prediction at the individual level.
Conclusion: Low scam awareness among older persons is a harbinger of adverse cognitive outcomes and is associated with Alzheimer disease pathology in the brain.
Primary funding source: National Institute on Aging.