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50+: Live Better, Longer

Aging Brain, More Trouble With Financial Decisions?

Older people also tend to tolerate less financial risk, research suggests
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Other questions asked the participants to consider financial situations in which the level of risk isn't clear. Overall, Levy said, "the choices that participants encountered in the experiment are simplified versions of real-life decisions."

Even though their brains were in good shape, the older people made worse decisions than younger people, Levy pointed out.

Older people didn't like risk much compared to young and middle-aged people, and neither did teens, she said. But the seniors were willing to take on more risk when it came to choosing between levels of financial loss.

What's going on? Levy pointed to one possibility: a loss in thinking powers related to deterioration of the brain due to aging. Also, she said, the study shows that seniors were less able to comprehend numbers than younger people.

Dr. Gary Small, a brain researcher and director of the Longevity Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the study is interesting. But, he said, it's limited because it may include seniors who suffer from "mild cognitive impairment -- a precursor to dementia -- which may have interfered with their decision-making."

What to do? "Doctors and families need to keep in mind that older adults may have new decision-making challenges as they age," Small suggested. "With important life decisions, family members should try to ensure that their older relative understands the key information involved in such decisions and the ramifications of alternative decisions."

The study appears in the Sept. 30 online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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