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Can't Decide? Don't Automatically Blame Age
 Senior Health Feature Story

Can't Decide? Don't Automatically Blame Age
Having a little extra time to think can help, experts say

Can't Decide? Don't Automatically Blame Age

(HealthDay News) -- When faced with making a decision, older folks may appear more hesitant, possibly even risk-averse as they try to make up their minds. And that seeming hesitancy make people think that the decisions aren't as sound as those made by younger people. Think again. Researchers now say that seniors may not be hesitant at all. Rather, it just takes their brains a little longer to process the information. "It's not age, per se, that's causing people to become more risk-averse," one of the study's authors, Scott A. Huettel, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told HealthDay. More likely, his study found, it could be an age-related decline in memory or a decline in the ability to process information quickly. Changes in older people's "ability to work with information" may be at the root of differences in the decision-making process seen in seniors compared to younger people, Huettel said. To test the theory, Huettel and his fellow researchers recruited 54 people, 66 to 76 years old, along with 58 people who were 18 to 35. All of the volunteers performed game-like tasks designed to assess how well they tolerated risk and made financial decisions. Memory and the ability to process information were the keys to success in the tasks. When both groups 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." Dr. Gary Small, director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Center on Aging, said it makes sense that age itself won't diminish decision-making if memory and the brain's speed of processing information haven't changed. To minimize the effects of aging on memory, the American Psychological Association suggests that people:

  • Be social. Staying involved in community activities can help keep your brain sharp.
  • Stay active. One of the most important things you can do for your brain health is to get regular exercise.
  • Avoid distractions. Loud noises in the background or trying to do too many things at once can impair your ability to remember something because you've never truly focused on it.
  • Don't assume that memory loss is normal. Keeping a positive attitude and believing that you still have a good memory can help keep your mind sharp. And, on the flip side, don't get too stressed if you do forget something. Losing your keys for a bit doesn't mean you have dementia.
  • Get your eyes and ears checked. Some people think their memory is going when, in fact, they aren't seeing or hearing as well as they used to. Make sure you're seeing and hearing as clearly as possible.

On the Web

To learn more about what's going on with your body and mind as you age, check out information from the American Geriatrics Society.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Scott A. Huettel, Ph.D., associate professor, psychology and neuroscience, Duke University, and director, Duke Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Durham, N.C.; Gary W. Small, M.D., director, UCLA Center on Aging, University of California, Los Angeles; June 1, 2010, Psychology and Aging; American Psychological Association (

Author: Serena Gordon

Publication Date: July 31, 2011

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