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Grandpa's Decision-Making Skills May Be Just Fine
Date:6/2/2010

Risk aversion isn't inevitable part of aging, researchers find

WEDNESDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- Conventional wisdom says older people make less risky -- and less sound -- decisions, but now a new study suggests otherwise.

In some cases, older people make just as good, or even better, money-making decisions than younger people, researchers report.

"It's not age, per se, that's causing people to become more risk-averse," said study co-author Scott A. Huettel, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

But two cognitive factors -- age-related declines in memory and the ability to process information quickly -- can influence the ability of older people to make decisions, he said.

The study authors began their research under the assumption that differences in decision-making seen in seniors probably weren't the result of aging itself, but instead to changes in older people's "ability to work with information," Huettel said.

And those changes, he said, vary from person to person.

For this study, published June 1 in the journal Psychology and Aging, 54 older adults (aged 66 to 76) and 58 younger people (aged 18 to 35) participated in game-like tasks designed to test their ability to make financial decisions and tolerate risk.

Those who had better cognitive abilities made better decisions and accumulated more money. Memory and the ability to process information in the brain were crucial, Huettel said.

When younger and older adults had the same levels of memory and speed of processing, "they'd be likely to make the same sorts of decisions," Huettel said. "In general, younger adults are able to do things faster than older adults. But there are a number of older adults who are faster than younger adults."

The findings suggest that older people might make better decisions if they have more time for their brains
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