Cognitive Ageing: New Learning For Marketers

Here’s a really interesting article from the New York Times discussing research into the process of decision-making among older people. Important learning here for marketers as well as caregivers.JPEG

According to the research, the way we make decisions changes on a fundamental, physiological level as we age. The brain begins to approach its tasks differently, and once we understand the changes, we can learn to work with them. It often manifests like this – an elderly parent who acts as though she has all the time in the world, and an adult caregiver with an eye on the clock – this, it now seems, has a basis in science.

Compared with those of younger adults, the brains of older adults were more likely to deviate from standard decision-making patterns when confronted with difficult choices. Sometimes people feel an elderly person experiencing the act of decision-making as chaotic and overwhelming. This often leads to people opting out altogether. There is some evidence that older adults are more likely to stick to defaults, or baselines, and this may be related to a desire to just avoid having to deal with the whole decision-making process.

Older people get more easily distracted and sometimes have a harder time ignoring irrelevant information. We have a harder time sourcing information – ‘Who was it that told me this was a good idea?’

Older adults are also more focused on the present moment and maximizing well-being. That can make simply reading a menu a pleasurable experience, but it may also lead a parent to resist change simply because it’s unfamiliar.

In a second study, the subjects were offered two sets of information on which to base their financial decisions. The first was a set of graphical earnings thermometers that simply required the subject to pick the best win-to-loss ratio; the second was a line graph that revealed more information on earnings over time.

Older people preferred the aid with more information. It just felt better to them. They liked having helpful and relevant information.

Every age brings its own peculiar shortcomings. Young people have loads of cognitive ability but little experience; elderly people have plenty of experience but diminished cognitive skills.

In our SilverAudit process, we consider the issues of ‘complexity’ and ‘comprehension’ when assessing the age-friendliness of a brand or business. Now we have some relevant and recent learning on this subject to refer to.


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