Laughing senior man using laptop computer at home

The social isolation inflicted by public health restrictions during the pandemic may be making it even harder for seniors with declining cognitive capabilities to make good financial decisions, a U.S.-based self-regulatory organization says.

A paper from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation found that seniors who are suffering cognitive deterioration — trouble with memory, attention span and problem solving — perform more poorly in decision making, and that loneliness further diminishes their performance.

The paper, written in collaboration with the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, noted that loneliness “has been implicated in poorer brain health and a reliance on intuition over analytic reasoning,” which might negatively influence decision making.

“While there is considerable research on the detrimental effects of cognitive decline on decision making, these novel findings show that loneliness also contributes to poor decision making among cognitively vulnerable older adults,” said Gerri Walsh, president of the FINRA Foundation, in a release.

“Lonely and cognitively vulnerable older adults may have difficulty with complex decisions, such as choosing retirement funds and prescription drug benefit plans and other life-altering decisions we face as we age,” she added.

Poor decision-making in old age is associated with adverse financial and health outcomes “including over-indebtedness, dementia, and even mortality,” the paper said.

The research also found that several factors were associated with worse decision-making among seniors, including age, symptoms of depression, more medical conditions, lower education and income, and fewer social contacts.

Given the impact of loneliness on lower-functioning seniors, the report suggested that policy interventions that target the condition might lead to improved decision-making in old age.

“Although more research is needed to better understand the relationship between loneliness and brain health, we do know that loneliness is modifiable and may be a critical target for future interventions designed to strengthen decision-making in old age,” Walsh said.