Aging and Decision Making

June 5, 2015 Hull & Hull LLP Capacity, Elder Law, General Interest, In the News Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

Personal decision-making processes and consideration often evolve as an individual ages.  Typically, old age is associated with a decline in cognitive ability and decision-making skills.  Recent study results, however, raise the question of whether age-related cognitive decline really does impact our ability to make decisions relevant to management of affairs and estate planning.

A set of studies recently conducted by the University of Basel and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development suggests that older individuals are able to make simple decisions just as well as younger counterparts.  Where the results of the study were differentiated was in respect of complex decision-making scenarios.  The study credited the enhanced ability of the younger test subjects to make multifaceted decisions more easily than older participants to the association of aging with reduced “fluid” cognitive abilities.

Decline in fluid cognitive abilities has been linked to an inability to understand the consequences of making a particular decision when similar situations have not previously been experienced and determining the most likely results of a certain course of action requires research and learning.

The results of the study do not take into account the prevalence of age-related conditions that do contribute to compromised mental capacity and decision making with age.  Approximately 15% of Canadians aged 65 or older live with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Although there is a presumption of mental capacity, in estate litigation, old age is often considered as a factor in determining whether a person was likely to have possessed mental capacity to execute certain documents or conduct certain transactions at a relevant time.  It is important to remember that, just because a person is elderly, this does not in any way mean that he or she lacks the cognitive ability to make valid decisions, and may even be as capable of doing so as a younger person.

Have a great weekend.

Nick Esterbauer

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