and self-determinacy; this is often interpreted as living with less reliance on the help and resources of others. The trend toward geographically dispersed families means that older individuals may have limited access to knowledgeable and supportive family members. As a result of these trends, responsibility for sound judgment and good decision making rests more on the individual than it has in the past.
The quality of judgment and decision making is of great import in the lives of older adults, as can be readily seen in three contexts central to the lives of most people: (1) motor vehicle operation, (2) health care, and (3) financial management.
Although many of us take it for granted, driving is a complex judgment and decision-making task that requires people to be perceptive and vigilant. Safe operation of a motor vehicle includes the ability not only to perform in a real-time environment, but also to assess and judge correctly the situations (e.g., traffic speeds and densities) and environmental conditions (e.g., weather, darkness) in which they are capable of driving. Older individuals, in particular, need to assess the point when they should discontinue driving altogether. The trend in society toward independent living and the importance of automobiles as the main source of personal mobility, however, makes decisions and trade-offs concerning driving difficult.
Judgments of personal health status (e.g., "Am I ill?" "Should I go to the doctor?") are particularly important for individuals living alone or with limited access to a social support network. Once one enters the health care system, decisions there are often quite complex due to the vast array of health care options provided in the marketplace and the volume of information available for consumers to consider. In addition, the historically paternalistic approach to medical treatment has shifted toward a more patient-directed one (Zwahr, 1999). Having to choose among many and complex treatment or health insurance options carries not only consequences for the quality of health care that an individual receives, but also strong financial implications.
Effective financial management draws heavily on one's judgment and decision-making abilities. More and more people are relying heavily on individual, self-directed financial plans in order to maintain their standard of living after retirement. Although some individuals call on professionals to develop a formal financial plan, even formal plans require investors to make critical decisions about when to withdraw or reallocate money in an environment of changing market conditions and tax laws. As individuals live longer, their financial assets must go farther, and high-quality financial decision making must be maintained. In an information-rich and risky environment, this task can be difficult even for those who are knowledgeable and capable. For those with decrements in information-processing capabilities, exercising good judgment and making wise financial decisions may be beyond their capacities.