Decisions keep on coming as we age

Our only pet right now is a large, cast-iron pig that stands solemnly in front of the fireplace in our living room. When holidays approach, we put a bow around his neck so he's more festive-looking. I don't really count the cement rabbit near the front porch steps as a "pet," but I suppose I could.

We have no pets in our lives right now because some months ago, for a multitude of reasons, we "adopted out" our dog. Regular readers may remember "Toby" as the rescued terrier with "issues," including an unwillingness to walk on wooden floors and peculiar eating habits.

Toby now lives in an adoptive home with two young children who reportedly adore him — and he them. The youngest child puts Toby in her doll carriage to transport him across anything wooden. He is said to be thriving. I miss him mightily but know it was the right thing to do, especially because my husband's allergy symptoms have all but disappeared. It was a huge decision for us.

There is some thought that decision-making gets harder as we age. We all know elders who have weighed the pros and cons of relocating their residence to a safer, more easily accessible living space for far too long, and their decision was ultimately made for them. They end up in a hospital or a nursing home.

I have always thought large life transitions are harder to make as we age, and for you personally, they may well be. But I have new thoughts about all this. A few years ago, Texas A&M scientists wanted to know, "Does age affect complex decision-making?" They compared the decision-making abilities of 20-something youths with 60-something adults. It's fairly well-known that certain cognitive abilities decline as we age; processing speed is one good example. But these scientists assessed aging cognition in an interesting way and looked at where "seasoned judgment" fit into older adult decision-making. They asked, "What impact do early experiences and wisdom-over-time have on later-in-life decision-making?" A lot, it seems.

More study is required, of course. But it appears older adults are better at weighing the changing relationships between "choices" and "rewards" in the decisions they make as they age. Younger adults are more apt to just lean toward "reward." Taking this further, I'm tempted to go back to my earlier "Where-will-I live-at-age -85?" illustration, but let's stay with pets.

Our decision to be dog-free was based on travel schedules, burden of care, our lack of expertise in caring for that particular dog and, of course, the allergy business. Once the decision was made, it was very freeing. In the process, we reflected on family history with animals and pondered our overall knowledge about dog care in general.

We concluded we needed a better "match" when the next pooch enters our life. The conversations were illuminating; we talked about things we had never discussed previously. We involved others and were fortunate to have the advice and assistance of a caring dog-expert friend.

Big decisions keep coming as we age — in a multitude of forms. I think making them well involves thoughtfully embracing all the options, using insight and history to assess what's best for you, getting the outside expertise you need — and then "¦ just doing what's right. Onward.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or

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