Conventional wisdom and mountains of anecdotal evidence suggest that old people are really, comically bad at doing things: driving; operating those newfangled pocket telegraph thingamajigs; gauging other people's interest in the details of their goiter surgery; continence. We can go on. This is low-hanging fruit.
But researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas' Center for Brain Health would like you to know that your crude gerontological jokes are ignorant and not very funny. The center's founder and director, Dr. Sandra Chapman, teamed up with the MetLife "Mature Market Institute" to produce a study proving once and for all that old people are totally competent.
"Contrary to conventional wisdom that cognitive function declines beginning in the mid-40s, aging does not correlate with a deteriorating ability to think for ourselves," UTD's press release announcing the report crows, adding that "age alone is not a key factor in predicting the ability to make decisions."
The release continues:
Focusing on healthy adults in [their 50s, 60s, and 70s], the researchers found that those who demonstrated smart decision-making also excelled at strategic learning--the ability to sift more-important information from the less-important.
Although study participants in all three life stages had about the same strategic learning abilities, the oldest participant group slightly surpassed the rest, implying strategic learning capacity may actually increase with age in normally functioning adults.
Additional findings show that study participants in their 70s were more conscientious, remained vigilant (i.e., considered their options before making a decision) and avoided being hyper-vigilant (i.e., focused on immediate solutions without considering other outcomes) when compared to those in their 50s.
So: not only does age not impair mental function, it actually makes it better. As for all those previous studies that concluded otherwise, Chapman says they failed to take into account early-onset dementia and other medical conditions.
Not that the study doesn't reek a bit of Baby Boomer propaganda. Chapman herself happens to fall within the age range under study and so has an obvious incentive to prove the mental fitness of her age group. And what is "MetLife Mature Market Institute" if not a shadowy part of the old people lobby? As far as I'm concerned, there's still more than enough room to continue making fun of old people.