Tag Archives: aging

By Ted Boscia
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, November 4, 2014

Cornell’s Translational Research Institute for Pain in Later Life (TRIPLL), a New York City-based center to help older adults prevent and manage pain, has received a five-year, $1.95 million renewal grant from the National Institute on Aging.

The institute, formed in 2009 as one of 12 national Edward R. Roybal Centers for Translational Research on Aging, studies innovative, nonpharmacological methods to ease persistent pain, which is estimated to afflict nearly half of older Americans. TRIPLL unites social and psychological scientists at Cornell’s Ithaca campus, Weill Cornell Medical College researchers and community-based health care partners.

With the grant renewal, TRIPLL adds a focus on behavior change science, seeking to apply insights from psychology, sociology, economics and communications to develop optimal pain management techniques. For instance, knowing how and why older adults decide on various medications, therapies, exercises and other methods to limit pain can help individuals and their caregivers to weigh their preferred treatments. TRIPLL investigators also plan to explore how new communication tools, including social media and smartphones, can be harnessed to manage pain.

“In spite of how widespread chronic pain is among older adults, there are relatively few tested interventions to help people reduce their pain,” said TRIPLL co-director Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development in the College of Human Ecology. “Our new focus is exciting because we hope to translate findings into more effective interventions by deepening our understanding of human behavior and decision-making.”

More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, more than those affected by heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined. Yet relatively few researchers study pain management, with most focusing on well-known diseases. But untreated pain takes a physical, mental, social and economic toll on older adults, according to TRIPLL co-director Cary Reid, the Irving Sherwood Wright Associate Professor of Geriatric Medicine at Weill Cornell.

“Treating pain in older patients is challenging in many ways,” Reid added. “There are few studies that enroll typical older patients that can help to guide management decisions. Older adults are more sensitive than younger adults to medication-related side effects, and many older individuals (along with their health care providers) believe that pain is supposed to be present in later life.”

Despite these challenges, Reid said that preventive approaches are critical to lessen the many negative consequences – such as reduced mobility, depression and anxiety, sleep impairment and social isolation – of poorly controlled pain.

In its first five years, TRIPLL has funded 30 pilot studies on innovative treatments, policies and interventions for improved pain management. More than 100 investigators – faculty members and graduate students – have been mentored by TRIPLL investigators, including presentations of their work at monthly work-in-progress seminars.

The institute will continue to have strong community roots, said TRIPLL co-director Elaine Wethington, professor of human development and of sociology. In Ithaca and New York City, TRIPLL researchers are partnering with health care providers, hospice and home nurse agencies and older adults themselves to match interventions to their needs. Its translational focus seeks to move evidence-based techniques directly into clinical practices, programs and policies.

“The involvement of community organizations in every aspect of research project development – from conceptualization, design, participant recruitment and eventual dissemination – is one of TRIPLL’s strengths” said Wethington. “The input of community agencies and consumers leads to research that is more likely to be implemented successfully in diverse cultural settings.”

Affiliated with Cornell’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, TRIPLL includes collaborating investigators at Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University (Ithaca campus) and the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. TRIPLL also maintains ongoing partnerships with Columbia University, the Hospital for Special Surgery, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Visiting Nurse Service of New York, and the Council of Senior Centers and Services of NYC.

Ted Boscia is director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

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By Scott Goldberg
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, April 23, 2014

Karim at service learning

Karin Abouelnaga '13 gives the keynote address at the annual Service-Learning Showcase April 17. Photo by Robert Barker/University Photography

“There are a million different problems out there. Every single day in any urban city you walk by, there are people who are homeless, people who are sick. How do you know when you’ve identified the problem that you should be solving?” asked keynote speaker Karim Abouelnaga ’13 at the annual Service-Learning Showcase held on April 17.

Karim, founder of the nonprofit Practice Makes Perfect, emphasized the importance of personal reflection in problem-solving and encouraged the nearly 200 faculty, staff and students in attendance to bridge the gap between their work at Cornell and their passion to make a difference.

Pillemer at service learning

Karl Pillemer, right, listens to the keynote address during the showcase. Photo by Robert Barker/University Photography

Abouelnaga’s address also celebrated those across campus devoted to public engagement locally, nationally and internationally. The address was followed by a ceremony for faculty and student project awards, co-sponsored by Engaged Learning + Research and the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. Winning projects received $1,500 to support future community-engagement initiatives; they were selected on their impact on the communities they serve, project sustainability and knowledge dissemination within the Cornell community and beyond.

Kira Gidron ’13, a graduate student in the field of systems engineering, won the Student Excellence in Community-Engaged Learning + Research Award for her work with the Intag Project. The project is a long-term partnership that links community organizations in Intag, Ecuador, with Cornell students through coursework and close collaboration with on-the-ground community partners. As an experiential learning class, it aims to strengthen sustainable and socially just alternatives to open-pit mining in Ecuador through education, outreach and economic development.

The Faculty Excellence in Community Collaboration Award went to professors Karl Pillemer, M. Carrington Reid and Elaine Wethington, who co-direct the Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life. The institute brings together dozens of outstanding faculty, staff, students and community partners to improve the health and well-being of older adults through non-pharmacological interventions for chronic pain. Now in its fifth year, the institute benefits communities across New York state and nationally.

The showcase also featured several student projects from the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Annual Meeting and gave grants totaling $10,000 to outstanding projects. The top CGI U Commitment Award went to Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate (SWAG), a group led by students Kendrick Coq ’15, Channing McNeal ’15 and Thaddeus Talbot ’15. SWAG fosters a supportive environment at Cornell to increase black men’s graduation rate to 90 percent by 2015, putting the group on par with the graduation rate of other racial demographics on campus. Honorable mentions went to Alexon Grochowski ’15, Joseph Nelson ’14 and Ralph-Cedric Comeau ’16 for Inclusive School Haiti; Timothy Smith ’14 for The Bekondo Project; and Angela Han ’15 for Project STAR: Celebrating Women.

The event also featured graduate student Meredith Ramirez Talusan’s “Keep Your Hat On” photography exhibit, which identifies Cornellians across disciplines that engage in social innovation and entrepreneurship. A total of 42 groups presented at the showcase.

Scott Goldberg ’16 is a student intern writer for the Cornell Chronicle.

Related Links:
Service-Learning Showcase
Bekondo Foundation


Breakthroughs in how we understand the human brain's structure and internal communication networks are helping scientists track neurological changes over time.

Nathan Spreng, assistant professor at Cornell University's Department of Human Development, is using advancement in neuroimaging to better understand how the brain functions and changes as we age. His research currently focuses on large scale brain dynamics and their function in cognition.

One of the most exciting frontiers in this regard is the reconceptualization of the brain as a complex system of many large and constantly interacting networks of brain regions. Read more

Neuroscientist Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development, co-authored an opinion piece in the Huffington Post, January 29th, highlighting the urgency for dementia research and treatments due to America's rapidly aging population.

Right now, approximately 4 million people have dementia in the United States. By 2030, this number will double, costing an estimated $400 billion in care. All of this money is used not for treatment, but to provide comfort and care during a slow and ugly period of decline. Spreng and his coauthor argue that the battle against dimentia is underfunded. Read more.

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, February 19, 2014



A low-cost, six-week program that teaches people how to manage pain and stay active has proven to reduce arthritis pain and disability, yet few of the nation’s 50 million adult arthritis sufferers have used it. By enhancing the program’s content and delivery with the help of community partners, Cornell researchers report that attendance improved dramatically, and participants were significantly more likely to stay in the modified program compared to the original, while experiencing the same physical and mental health improvements.

“Effective health programs may not reach people who need them due to factors such as culture, language, age or income, but changing programs to meet the needs of new target populations can make a dramatic difference,” said study co-author Karl Pillemer, professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

The study, which was published in February in the Musculoskeletal Journal of the Hospital for Special Surgery (Vol. 10:1), focuses on the Arthritis Self-Management Program, also known as the Arthritis Self-Help Course.



“To our knowledge, this is the first controlled study to directly compare the effects of an adapted chronic disease self-management program with the original,” said co-author Dr. M. Carrington Reid, associate professor in geriatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College. He added that rigorously evaluating modified programs such as this one to ensure they still deliver the expected benefits is rare, but critical.

To modify the underutilized program, Reid, Pillemer and his colleagues collaborated with a team of staff from local agencies and senior centers, older adults and program instructors. The team incorporated nearly 40 enhancements suggested by program participants and instructors, such as adding in-class exercise practice and individual action plans to make use of local health programs, expanding information on healthy eating and weight management, and simplifying reading materials.

The adapted and original versions were tested with 201 older adults, with baseline data collected at the beginning, at program completion and 18 weeks later. While both groups experienced equivalent relief in pain, stiffness and perceived disability, attendance in the adapted program improved by 46 percent, and participants were 26 percent more likely to stay in the modified program than in the original.

That means that the modified program could have significantly more reach and impact, the authors say. Their findings not only underscore the value of involving local stakeholders in tailoring interventions to specific populations, but also the importance of conducting controlled experiments to quantify the results, they say. Furthermore, they add, their findings highlight the potential of relatively simple programs to help build self-efficacy for arthritis management and improve quality of life.

The study, “Measuring the Value of Program Adaptation: A Comparative Effectiveness Study of the Standard and a Culturally Adapted Version of the Arthritis Self-Help Program,” was also co-authored by graduate student Emily Chen and senior research associate Charles Henderson of Cornell, and Samantha Parker of Tulane University School of Medicine. It was supported in part by the National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Institute on Aging.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

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Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 21, 2013



Similarities in personal values and beliefs between an adult child and an older mother keeps that child in favor over the long-term, and that preference can have implications for mothers’ long-term care, reports a new Cornell study.“Not only does her favoritism affect adult sibling relationships, but also the patterns of caregiving for mothers," said co-author Karl Pillemer, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell. “Knowing that favoritism tends to be relatively stable can be helpful to practitioners assisting families with their older relatives.The study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family (75:5), reports that about three-quarters of the 406 mothers in the study, who were 65-75 years of age at the study’s onset, identified the same child as their favorite and preferred caregiver at the start and end of the seven-year study.

The mother’s perception of similarity between herself and her child was one of the biggest predictors of who remained the favorite, Pillemer said. He added that recent research with co-author Jill Suitor of Purdue University has found that mothers tend to prefer their “favorites” as their caregivers, compared with her other children.

The findings of the new study, co-authored with Suitor and Megan Gilligan of Iowa State University, are based on data from the Within-Family Differences Study, in which data were collected seven years apart from the same mothers.

Gender similarity also was a consistent factor to show long-term favoritism, which is not surprising because the mother-daughter connection has been shown in previous research to typically be the strongest, closest and most supportive parent-child relationship, Pillemer said.

In addition to looking at personal values, the researchers also looked at whether a child's financial independence, adult roles as a spouse or parent themselves, consistent employment and lawful behavior influenced which child remained the favorite. What was surprising is that whether a child was married, divorced or independent mattered much less than sharing personal values, said Suitor, who is a member of the Center on Aging and the Life Course.

"These mothers are saying that if I can't make my own decisions involving my life then who can best make these decisions for me? Who thinks like I do?" Suitor said. "Who has the same vision in life that I do, has a pretty good sense of what I would do? This is incredibly important with issues related to caregiving, and that is why understanding these family dynamics is so important."

On the other hand, identifying what drove changes when a child fell out of favor has proven much more difficult, the researchers noted.

"One of the few predictors of changes was when children stopped engaging in deviant behaviors, such as substance abuse, during the seven years, and then their mothers were more likely to choose them as the children to whom they were most emotionally close," Gilligan said.

Suitor said, "This is an interesting change because if a child engaged in deviant behaviors seven years ago but then stopped, they were even more likely to be chosen than were siblings who never engaged in deviant behaviors."

Suitor, Pillemer and Gilligan are planning to extend the Within-Family Differences Study to include interviewing Baby Boomers about their adult children.

The study, “Continuity and Change in Mothers' Favoritism Toward Offspring in Adulthood,” was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 15, 2013

Jeanne Tsai, associate professor of psychology at Stanford University, speaks at the 2013 Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference - Jason Koski/University Photography

Recent scientific advances demonstrate the profound effects of emotion on physical health, even how long we live and what diseases we die from. Likewise, there is growing evidence for the effects of aging on our emotions. Both streams of research shed light on root causes of disease and pathways to lifelong health, which is why researchers gathered on campus Oct. 3-4 to better understand the interplay between emotions and health across the lifespan.

The Fourth Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference, “New Developments in Aging, Emotion and Health,” drew scholars from as far away as Europe to share research on the nature of age differences in emotions, how emotions influence health, the underlying biological and behavioral mechanisms, and possibilities for leveraging these discoveries to promote healthy aging.

“We convened a temporary think tank of long-standing and rising leaders in the two fields to create some unlikely encounters and novel ideas,” said Corinna Loeckenhoff, assistant professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology and director of the Cornell Healthy Aging Laboratory. “We expect the intellectual exchange and networking will lead to new conceptual developments as well as policy and translation opportunities with real-world implications,” she said. Loeckenhoff co-organized the conference with Anthony Ong, associate professor of human development.

Many of those who participated are pioneers in their fields. Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology and the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, for example, is best known for her theory about how people’s motivations change as they age. She reviewed her recent research on leveraging older adults’ preference for the positive to improve health behaviors. Positive messages about the benefits of exercise, it turns out, are more effective than negative messages about risks of inactivity in motivating older adults to walk regularly. Such insights could revolutionize efforts to help America’s growing population of older adults remain active, she said.

Cornell neuroscientist Adam Anderson, associate professor of human development, said that his research suggests that positive emotions are associated with increased cognitive flexibility and creative problem solving, and this may be due to neural changes that impair selective attention. The aging brain, he says, exhibits this same “leaky filter” pattern. More information can slow down thinking, but there’s an upside as well, he proposed – the rose colored glasses of positivity broaden our field of view and help us see remote connections.

Alex Zautra of Arizona State University, who studies resilience and interventions that help people bounce back from stressors and adversity, shared his recent research on the crucial role of social ties in “unlocking” resilience and his initiative to develop online social intelligence training to help people build and maintain social ties.

Participants (who included other renowned scholars such as George Bonanno, Columbia University; Michaela Riediger, the Max Plank Institute for Human Development; and Laura Kubzansky, Harvard School of Public Health) also debated core assumptions about emotional regulation and personality, the effects of culture, environment and technology, and their implications for policy and practice.

The American Psychological Association plans to publish a book based on the papers presented at the conference, which was sponsored by Cornell’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Institute for the Social Sciences and Department of Human Development; the Scientific Research Network on Decision Neuroscience and Aging; Constance F. Ferris; and Liese Bronfenbrenner.

Conference videos

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, September 5, 2013

Charles Brainerd


Cornell researchers have developed a reliable method to distinguish memory declines associated with healthy aging from the more-serious memory disorders years before obvious symptoms emerge. The method also allows research to accurately predict who is more likely to develop cognitive impairment without expensive tests or invasive procedures.

Their results hold promise for detecting cognitive impairment early and monitoring treatment, but also have implications for healthy adults, said Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and the study’s lead co-author with Valerie Reyna, director of the Institute for Human Neuroscience and professor of human development, both in the College of Human Ecology.

Valerie Reyna


Their research, “Dual-retrieval models and neurocognitive impairment,” appears online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, Aug. 26.

The memory abilities affected by cognitive impairment differ from those affected by healthy aging, the authors say, resulting in unique error patterns on neuropsychological tests of memory. Their theory-driven mathematical model detects these patterns by analyzing performance on such tests and measuring the separate memory processes used.

“With 10 or 15 minute recall tests already in common use worldwide, we can distinguish individuals who have or are at risk for developing cognitive impairment from healthy adults, and we can do so with better accuracy than any existing tools,” said Brainerd.

The notion that memory declines continuously throughout adulthood appears to be incorrect, they say. “When we separated out the cognitively impaired individuals, we found no evidence of further memory declines after the age of 69 in samples of nationally representative older adults and highly educated older adults,” said Reyna.

To develop their models, the team used data from two longitudinal studies of older adults – a nationally representative sample of older adults, the Aging, Demographics and Memory Study, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative – that include brain and behavioral measures as well as diagnoses for cognitive impairment and dementia.

Specifically, the researchers found that declines in reconstructive memory (recalling a word or event by piecing it together from clues about its meaning, for example, recalling that “dog” was presented in a word list by first remembering that household pets were presented in the list) were associated with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia, but not with healthy aging. Declines in recollective memory – recalling a word or event exactly – were a feature of normal aging.

Over a period of between one and a half to six years, declines in reconstructive memory processes were reliable predictors of future progression from healthy aging to mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia, and better predictors than the best genetic marker of such diseases.

“Reconstructive memory is very stable in healthy individuals, so declines in this type of memory are a hallmark of neurocognitive impairment,” Reyna said.

Younger adults rely heavily on recollection, Brainerd said, but this method becomes increasingly inefficient throughout mid-adulthood. “Training people how to make better use of reconstructive recall as they age should assist healthy adult memory function,” he said. “Our analytical models are readily available for research and clinical use and could easily be incorporated into existing neuropsychological tests.”

The co-authors of the paper are Carlos Gomes, a graduate student in the field of human development; Anna Kenney ’11, Caroline Gross ’12 and Emily Taub ’10 of Cornell – all of whom helped conduct the research as undergraduates in Brainerd’s lab; and Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development and Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in the College of Human Ecology.

The research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the CAPES Foundation, a federal agency under Brazil’s Ministry of Education.

Karene Booker is extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.