Friday, February 1, 2008

Right to Folly? or the beginning of thoughts on freedom to live

Chris comments on my January 30 post, Proof that Aging Hurts Decision Making?:

"The problem with the researchers' conclusions that the older one gets the less "good" decisions one makes is that it ignores myriad other criteria for evaluating choice.

What is a "good' decision? What makes a decision "bad"? Should all decisions be judged (evaluated) on the basis of "objective" criteria? Who decides what the objective criteria are? Or can a subjective perspective be as valid? Does the perception of risk change with age (perhaps?)? And the fact of risk change with age (health, longevity, ability to find love or comfort or adequate financial resources)?

How to take into consideration that an young person's brain isn't completely developed until he or she is 25 (based on growth of neurons as well as moral capacity -- whatever that means)?

Judgment is a function of context, both external and internal. Choosing from a "sucker" deck may reflect an emotional sense of security with a first choice that provides much more reward than any financial payoff. After all you can't take your money to the grave.

If we fear that oldsters are being bilked of their money by unscrupulous crooks, then we ought to impose higher
penalties on those kinds of crimes when the victims are older people. Bilking a 50 year old should perhaps not be as heavily punished than bilking an 80 year old.

The eighty year old person has a fundamental right to make
decisions. Whether you and I judge them to be bad judgments is irrelevant. See my post on "The Right of Folly" on Epiphytic Notions."

Read the more on the subject in the March 1, 1989 article in Money Magazine by Denise M. Topolnicki, Beth M. Gilbert and Teresa Tritch:
The Gulag of Guardianship The legal system that is supposed to protect our frail elderly is a national disgrace. All too often it strips them of their rights and leaves them open to financial abuse.

Better yet, read the wisdom of Elias Cohen in Growing Old in America by Beth Hess, Chapter 16, Civil Liberties and the Frail Elderly:
Elias Cohen recounts the story of Walter Tyrrell, age 85, who was found incompetent after fifteen-minute examinations by two doctors. Apparently he'd been extravagent with his money, spending it on a woman, negotiating an excellent, below-market price on a ring (same for his negotiations on his own grave) - behaviors that were totally consistent with his own personality. Elias Cohen points out that if Mr. Tyrrell had been 45, with the same set of behaviors, no one would have suggested his need for a guardian, the issue of his competency would not have been raised.

In other words, a young person can squander their money. An old person, whose years are limited, can lose the right to the use their own money. The 93-year-old man who has 3 million dollars in the bank, money he has earned and saved and amassed, should not have his freedom denied by a conservator, who deems a $3,000 gift that he wants to give someone inappropriate. He just shouldn't.

What is the role and right of a conservator? Is it to provide protection or deny freedom and happiness? What can one do when the values of the conservator are inconsistent with and in opposition to that of the person they are charged to "protect"? What if the 93-year-old with 3 million dollars wants to spend a million, give it away, travel, whatever? Why not? He is not dead yet. And when he is, what's left after the tightly protected 3 million dollars is used to pay conservator's fees, estate taxes, legal fees, etc. will be passed down to heirs - heirs that will be free to spend it as they like. Grrrrrr.

Speaking for myself, there's no doubt that my memory has changed. When searching my mental data base for what once was a readily available four-syllable word, I often give up and use four one-syllable words - "Refrigerator" becomes "the box that keeps food cold". I often slow down in conversation, but considering how fast I used to talk, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Is it a loss or an opportunity to see things differently, more creatively? I have to think it's the latter. And about finances, I may be a bit loopier, but I'm a heck of a lot more financially responsible than I was when I was younger.

Comments on my original post - Thanks, Sharry at Embodied Aging, for noticing the house of cards that accompanied it.

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