Two More Reasons Why Getting Old Sucks

Well, this is depressing. A new Australian-led study has found that aging has a detrimental affect on rational decision-making with people over the age of 65 incapable of making consistent choices during testing. In a separate, unrelated study, researchers in Sweden found that middle-aged people who deal with lots of stress are more likely to develop dementia in late life. Enjoy your youth while it lasts, kids.

Old person picture from Shutterstock

According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], the ability to make rational choices recedes with age, similar to other age-related declines such as cognitive ability. To test their theory, researchers analysed the decision-making abilities of 135 participants aged between 12 and 90. The study focused on choice consistency, rationality, and the individuals’ preferences for known and unknown risks.

The study found that participants aged 65 years and over made strikingly inconsistent choices on a regular basis compared with their younger counterparts, which suggests a loss in the ability to make rational decisions.

"We found that even the healthiest of elders show profoundly compromised decision making, and that risk attitudes show systematic changes across the life span that have important policy implications," the report concludes.

In more bad news for oldies, a study from the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiolog at Gothenburg University in Sweden has found that coping with a lot of stress in middle age may boost the risk of developing dementia in late life.

The study involved a cohort of 800 women who were systematically selected for a psychiatric examination in 1968 with a focus on common psychosocial stressors such as divorce, widowhood, work problems and illness in a relative. The women were re-examined in 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000 and 2005.

Between 1968 and 2006, around 20 percent of surviving participants had developed dementia, 104 of whom developed Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers conclude that stress may cause a number of physiological reactions in the central nervous, endocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems:

Psychosocial stressors in midlife were associated with incidence of AD and long-standing distress, over several decades. This suggests that common psychosocial stressors may have severe and long-standing physiological and psychological consequences.

Like cognitive function, decision making across the life span shows profound age-related changes [PNAS]

Common psychosocial stressors in middle-aged women related to longstanding distress and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a 38-year longitudinal population study [BMJ Open]


Comments

    Hmmmmm. I may be mistaken but the #s are not adding up. 800 women who had experienced major psychosocial stressors before 1968. Fast forward 45 years and how many of these divorced/widowed/stressed women are still alive?
    20% of the surviving subjects developed dementia and 108 with the specific sub-type of Alzheimer's Disease?
    The math doesn't work... If, of the original 800 women, say 500 survived another 45 years then the 108 diagnosed with AD = 20% of the original sample. Sadly AD is not the most common cause of dementia.
    Or, a whopping 80% of the surviving subjects did not develop dementia. That 80% of the surviving sample should be studied closely to find how we could emulate them.
    For the love of Pete, check your #s before upsetting people.

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