By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Let's play word association. If I say "old age," what are the first words that come to mind? Would it be something like "senile," "feeble," "scattered," "sad," "sick," or "absent-minded"? If so, you would be in line with most individuals' general associations with the elderly. And these stereotypes attach to jurors as well. I recall a recent jury selection where counsel asked if I thought an older juror would really be able to follow the details of the case. We believe that age means decline, and we assume that this means a cognitive decline as well. New research, however, is showing that this is most likely a false assumption. Of course, there are diseases affecting mental acuity that can set in when you're older. But the research targets the belief that it is "just part of getting older" to have some level of mental decline.
The good news: it isn't. The topic carries some importance for trial lawyers as our jury pools are getting older and as we continue to try to get jury selection past the stereotypes and onto the factors that really matter. Recent research suggesting that there is a "Myth of Cognitive Decline" attached to the elderly provides another reason to think of jurors as individuals, not as collections of demographic information. This post takes a look at that myth and provides a few recommendations on combatting it.