Sleepless, But On Guard

Everyone knows that, as you get older, your sleep patterns change and, for the most part, get worse.  A lot worse.

The arc of sleep goes from the totally out like a light sleep of the very young to the 12-hour power-sleeping capabilities of college students, but it’s all downhill from there.  By the time you’re in your 40s, 50s, and 60s, the realities of shrinking bladder capacity and ever-present concerns about developments in your career and family life combine to make sleep a fitful exercise, with lots of tossing and turning mixed in.  There’s not much REM sleep to be had.

neanderthalerScientists think there is an evolutionary reason for this unfortunate trend — one that goes back to caveman days.  They say older folks sleep less soundly because their role in the tribe was to be alert for potential predators, attacks from warring clans, and other lurking disasters.  In caveman days, the blue-haired set would go to bed earlier than the rest of the tribe.  Then, with their lighter sleep habits, they would be roused by the sounds that a nocturnal animal would make upon entering the cave and could give the alert, so that the more youthful members of the tribe could help to fight the predator.  And the sleepless oldsters would also be first up in the morning, to get that all-important fire going and be ready to deal with any unwanted intrusions by bears or wolves or sabertoothed tigers.

It’s nice to know that there’s an exciting explanation for experiencing poorer, less satisfying sleep as you get older, and that in the dawn of humanity a codger my age would be quickly roused to alertness in order to grapple with cave bears and save the tribe.  I’d still trade it for a solid seven hours of sound sleep.

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Fraud From The Boiler Room

This week a police operation in Great Britain and the EU resulted in arrests of more than 100 people who allegedly were involved in “boiler room” operations, where callers solicit investments in fraudulent financial schemes or sell stock that doesn’t exist. The SEC, too, routinely prosecutes people who are determined to be involved in boiler room schemes to swindle investors. Often these schemes bilk hapless seniors of their retirement funds.

I’ve received “boiler room” type calls. Typically the caller talks very fast with a New York accent (I’ve always assumed the accent is part of the job training, just like being an airline pilot requires that you speak with a certain folksiness), explains they are with an investment outfit you’ve never heard of, and then says they’ve got just one opportunity they want you to consider. There’s always some hook that makes the investment sound plausible and can be described in 30 seconds — development of oil sands, a company that’s about to be awarded a development contract in Qatar — and then the ask that you give them this one chance to show that they can make a huge return for you.

I always listen politely, because I watched Glengarry Glen Ross and felt sorry for the Jack Lemmon character, and then decline. If they start to get especially pushy and belligerent — and that’s not unusual — I just hang up. They’re wasting their time with me, because I would never dream of giving any of my hard-earned money to a complete stranger who calls out of the blue. However, some people do invest, to their eventual regret, which is why boiler room operations have been a staple of the fraudster arsenal for decades.

Many of the victims are senior citizens. Why are so many older people easier to scam? Research suggests that the elderly are more likely to open junk mail about get-rich-quick schemes and interact with cold callers, and that the aging brain is less able to appreciate risk. In short, they put themselves in a position to be hoodwinked, react positively to the promises of outlandish returns on their money, and lack the filters that would allow them to recognize the downside risk and danger that they are being defrauded.

If you’ve ever known an anguished and humiliated senior citizen who was taken advantage of by a boiler room operation, you know that there is a special level of hell reserved for crooks who prey on the elderly, rob them of their life savings, and leave them facing an impoverished retirement.