Oh dear. This article appeared in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times: “Ability to Choose Wisely May Decline with Age.”

It said that teenagers usually win society’s award for overall poor decision-making. However a study in the National Academy of Sciences suggests that our ability to make wise choices changes over time and declines with age.  Oops. I knew I wouldn’t get away with the two pair of shoes I just bought.

In fact, the study found that in certain situations, the decision-making ability of people older than 65 was worse than that of adolescents. Is that even possible? And mental capability was not the culprit.

The study gave $125 to each person ages 12-90. Designed to gauge risk aversion, consistency of thought and rationality, a series of “lottery questions” were asked. According to the results, seniors chose irrational wager options 25% of the time. An example of an irrational choice would be to bypass a sure gain of $5 in favor of an ambiguous or risky choice to win the same amount of cash.

Adolescents chose irrational options only 10% of the time while young and midlife adults chose them only 5% of the time.

However, seniors were far more cautious than the other age groups when choosing between two possible cash gains. But if faced with a choice between two losses, they chose the riskier option with the higher potential loss.

The seniors also lacked consistency. When the same question was asked a number of times, seniors switched their answers “significantly” more than all the other age groups.

This study falls in line with growing research suggesting that older adults make decisions detrimental to their wealth, health, and general well-being. The reason for such behavior remains a mystery but it does raise concern regarding their ability to choose the correct health plan, medical decisions, or make voting errors. Ifat Levy, an assistant professor of comparative medicine and neurobiology at Yale suggests that “the decrease in consistency and rationality may be due to a general reduction in cognitive function which occurs even in healthy aging. As for the risk preferences, it may be that as they are getting closer to the end of their life, people assume that it is less likely for uncertain events to actually happen to them which drive them to take less risk with gains but more risks with losses.”

Okay, so when I reach 65, I am permitted to make uninformed voting choices and to go to Las Vegas and play the roulette wheel to my heart’s content, and not take the medication that the doctor told me I need to.  I never thought that the excuse “because I am an old person” would ever be in legitimate. Someone tell the cartoonist who draws Maxine. Who knows?  I might be able to drive my children even crazier than I already do!