Decision-making skills - along with general cognitive function - decline significantly in older adults, according to a new study by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine, New York University and the University of Sydney.
A study says decision-making skills decline significantly in older adults. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
In the study, 135 people between 12 and 90 years of age were asked to make 320 financial decisions involving varying gains or losses and differing levels of risk, such as a gain of five United States dollars versus a chance to win either eight dollars or nothing at all, or a loss of five dollars versus a chance to lose either more or nothing at all.
The large number of choices in the study allowed the researchers to draw conclusions about the participants' choice consistency.
Particpants over 65 years of age were more risk-averse when it came to gains and chose a certain payment over a "lottery" option more often than participants aged 30 to 50. But they took significantly more risks when they could gamble on a loss.
As a result of their choice inconsistency, the over-65s earned, on average, about 40 per cent less in the gain and loss trials than the other age groups.
"Just as elders show profound declines in cognitive function, they also show profound declines in choice rationality compared with their younger peers," the researchers say in their study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
They found that risk attitudes over a lifetime seemed to follow an inverted U-shaped curve, with adolescents aged 12 to 17 years and over-65s more risk-averse than adults between the ages of 21 and 50.