Published on: January 22, 2013
by Lesley Dobson for Saga:
Age alone is not the key factor in poor decision-making in older adults, say US researchers.
We’ve become used to hearing that our brains’ thinking abilities start tailing off in our mid-40s – and from there it’s all pretty much downhill. Now there’s new research that could turn that thinking upside down, thanks to ‘The Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions’ project in the United States.
The main aim of the study was to identify factors that might reduce or increase the risk of poor decision-making in people aged 50 to 79. Part of the thinking behind this study was that previous large studies hadn’t identified medical problems, such as early dementia, that might affect the decision-making abilities of their participants.
In addition, they had also neglected to take into account the positive aspects of growing older, such as years of decision-making experience and accumulated knowledge.
The study is one of the first projects to look at the connection between cognitive health, ageing and decision-making capacity.
The 72 participants in the study were healthy men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s. They were asked to complete a decision-making task that would test their ability to make logically consistent financial decisions.
Each participant’s decision-making was compared with other factors. These were their performances on measures of strategic learning* capacity, and their IQ and self-reported decision-making styles.
The results of the study found that when decision-making ability was compared across the age groups, from the 50 year olds to the 79 year olds, age made no difference. This indicates that age alone is not a key factor.
Moreover, study participants who were most reliable at demonstrating smart decision-making, were also good at the strategic learning task (see below).
Some key findings from the study
“Age is not a disease,” said Dr Sandra Chapman, founder and chief director of the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, one of the organisations that conducted the research. “Therefore noticeable drops in mental decline warrant medical attention to determine cause and the best course of action. Maximising cognitive potential is possible across the lifespan.”
*Strategic learning: this is the ability to determine and use a strategy to sift through information and work out which is more important.
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