Tag Archives: aging

FEATURES

Elaine Wethington elected fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science

Elaine Wethington is elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. Dr. Wethington is recognized for distinguished contributions to medical sociology.


Aging stereotypes are bad for older adults' health

Corinna Loeckenhoff says that shifting stereotypes is no simple feat. People develop their views on aging when they are toddlers, but they also change based on experience. Unfortunately, negative beliefs are often built on inaccurate impressions.


Combating loneliness important for a healthy, long life

Research has found that loneliness is a known risk factor for cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, disability and depression. Anthony Ong urges addressing the direct, indirect, and moderated effects of social isolation and loneliness on health.


Access Cornell Race and Empathy Project online

Since its launch in September 2016, the Cornell Race and Empathy Project has recorded, archived and shared the everyday stories of Cornellians that evoke racial empathy. To continue fostering the ability to identify and understand the feelings of someone of a different background, the project has evolved into an online presence.


MULTIMEDIA

John Eckenrode - What is translational research?

John Eckenrode

John Eckenrode and Karl Pillemer discuss the origins of translational research, and how it differs from "basic" and "applied" research. There are some examples of translational research projects and throughout the conversation they touch on why this research method is so effective and more and more in-demand by funders, policymakers and practitioners.


STUDENTS IN THE NEWS

The Human Development Graduate Program - an interview with Tamar Kushnir's students

Three of Tamar Kushnir's graduate students--Teresa Flanagan, Alyssa Varhol, and Alice Xin Zhao--reflect on what led them to work with Dr. Kushnir and enroll in the Department of Human Development Graduate Program.


 

thehindu.com, Age well: attitudes matter in a greying world, June 14, 2018, by Jim Rendon and Olumfemi Terry.

Healthy ageing has become increasingly important, but a WHO analysis found that 60% of people surveyed across 57 countries had negative views of old age.

At 85, Claude Copin, a retired French welder, may have discovered a secret to living a long, healthy life. She stays active by playing a petanque game with friends in a Paris park. And she has made friends with her teammates’ children, many of whom are teenagers. They take her to parties and movies — sometimes forgetting that she might need a rest before they do.

“I make my life beautiful,” says Ms. Copin. “I am still healthy because I have activities and I meet people.”

Ms. Copin is right. A growing body of research and global data collected and analysed by Orb Media shows a strong connection between how we view old age and how well we age. Individuals with a positive attitude towards old age are likely to live longer and in better health than those with a negative attitude. Older people in countries with low levels of respect for the elderly are at risk for worse mental and physical health and higher levels of poverty compared with others in their country. A shift in attitude, the research shows, could improve a lot.

Healthy ageing is increasingly important: countries everywhere outside Africa are rapidly growing older. If population trends continue, by 2050 nearly one out of five people in the world will be over 65, and close to half a billion will be older than 80. Smaller, young populations will have to care for large, older populations with increasingly expensive health care needs.

Surprisingly, in a world brimming with older people, negative views of old age are common. A World Health Organization analysis found that 60% of people surveyed across 57 countries had negative views of old age. Older people are often viewed as less competent and less able than younger people. They are considered a burden on society and their families, rather than being recognised for their valuable knowledge, wisdom and experience.

Orb Media compiled data from over 1,50,000 people in 101 countries to learn about their levels of respect for older people. Pakistan was among the countries that scored the highest.

Respect for older people is a long-standing tradition in Pakistan, says Faiza Mushtaq, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Pakistan. But as more people move to cities, traditional family structures are being disrupted, making it harder to care for elders. Without a government safety net, many older people fall into severe poverty, she says.

Nonetheless, there are tangible benefits to the way elders are viewed, says Ms. Mushtaq. “This attitude towards ageing is a much healthier embrace of the ageing process, rather than having all of your notions of well-being and attractiveness and self-worth being tied so closely to youth,” she says.

Japan, with the world’s longest lifespans and low birth rates, is at the leading edge of this global demographic shift. There Orb found low levels of respect for the elderly. Kozo Ishitobi, an 82-year-old nursing home physician, says that older people were traditionally seen as a burden.

“Japanese people are starting to realise that elderly people need support,” he says. “We all go through it, so we should support each other.”

Broad implications

It turns out that one’s attitude towards ageing has broad implications. Becca Levy, a Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in the United States, has been fascinated by the power of age stereotypes for decades. She started her work in the 1990s with a hunch. If older people are respected in society, perhaps that improves their self-image.

“That may in turn actually influence their physiology and that may influence their health,” says Ms. Levy.

Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Ms. Levy, the leader in the field, and the researchers that followed have found just that: those with positive views about old age live longer and age better. They are less likely to be depressed or anxious, and they show increased well-being and recover more quickly from disability. They also are less likely to develop dementia and the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, Ms. Levy found that Americans with more positive views on ageing who were tracked over decades lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative views. Studies in Germany and Australia have found similar results.

“Some of the magnitudes of the findings have been surprising,” says Ms. Levy.

Orb’s research and analysis found that these effects can also be seen across cultures. Older people in countries with high levels of respect for the elderly report better mental and physical well-being compared with other groups in their countries, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations and others. Those countries also report lower rates of poverty among people over 50 compared with younger people in each country. It seems too simple: How can holding a better attitude towards old age help someone live longer? Ms. Levy found that people with negative age stereotypes have higher levels of stress. And stress has been correlated with a range of health problems. Those who expect a better life in old age are also more likely to exercise, eat well and visit the doctor, says Ms. Levy.

That has been the case for 57-year-old Marta Nazare Balbine Prates who moved her family into her parents’ home in Sao Paulo, Brazil a decade ago. She had to quit her job as a nutritionist at a hospital to care for them (her father passed away at the beginning of the year). It has been hard financially and emotionally. But, she says, the experience has made her think about the kind of life she wants when she is older.

“I try to watch what I eat. I work out as much as possible,” she says, “so I can reach old age in good physical condition.”

An achievement

We should be grateful that we are even concerned about growing old, says Marilia Viana Berzins. She has worked with the elderly in Brazil for 20 years and founded the advocacy group, Observatory of Human Longevity and Aging. “Old age is actually an achievement,” she says. “It’s humanity’s biggest achievement of the last century.”

But, Ms. Berzins says, in Brazil old age has become associated with incapacity. “When we change this mindset and old age is seen like just a stage of life, we’ll move forward,” she says. “And the elderly will be treated with more respect.”

Shifting stereotypes is no simple feat. People develop their views on ageing when they are toddlers, says Corinna Loeckenhoff, an Associate Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, who has studied age stereotypes across cultures. But they also change based on experience. Unfortunately, negative beliefs are often built on inaccurate impressions.

Corinna Loeckenhoff

As people grow older, their health usually remains stable until about five years before they die, says Ms. Loeckenhoff. Only then will most people experience the mental and physical decline most associated with old age. “People keep mixing up ageing and dying,” she says.

Some research shows that increasing meaningful contact between young and older people can break down negative stereotypes. For the past five years, the Résidence des Orchidées, a nursing home in Tourcoing, France, has tried to do just that. Every week, the home brings children from a neighbouring daycare centre to visit the residents. Pierre Vieren, a 91-year-old retired business owner, loves seeing the children.

“When I went to my balcony, the children said ‘Pierre, he is here,’” he says. “They all wave at me to say hello. That is my little ray of sunshine in the morning.”

The nursing home’s director, Dorothee Poignant, says the experience normalises old age for the children. “It recreates a family spirit with joy, children laughing, older people laughing,” she says.

“We don’t only have elderly, we have children, elderly, disabled people. It’s inclusive.”

Everyone can gain from improving ideas about old age, says Ms. Loeckenhoff. “The single-most important thing to realise about ageing stereotypes is that they are the only fair ones,” she says. “You will be the victim of your own stereotype, or the beneficiary as you get older.”

(Access full report at Orbmedia.org/agewell)

FEATURES

Charles Brainerd to receive G. Stanley Hall Award

Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and human neuroscience, will receive the American Psychological Association’s G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at the APA’s August 2019 meeting in San Francisco.


Assisted-living is better when family and staff communicate

Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in Human Development and senior associate dean for research and outreach in the College of Human Ecology, has developed the Partners in Caregiving in Assisted Living Program (PICAL)  to reduce staff-family conflict in assisted living facilities.


Institute for the Social Sciences grant awarded to bethany ojalheto

The Institute for the Social Sciences (ISS) grants awards to faculty to develop new research or seek external funding. bethany ojalehto received funding for her project, "Cognitive Drivers of Environmental Decision Making: Mobilizing Indigenous Ecocentric Conceptual Perspectives in Diverse Contexts."


Our brains are wired to earn money, but not save it

Adam Anderson and Eve De Rosa recently studied why it is hard for people to save money. They found that when people were given the choice, over 90% of the time they chose earning money to saving it. They discuss how our brains may be hard-wired for earning and that saving requires more conscious effort.


Teens old for their grade more likely to enroll in college

Felix Thoemmes uses math models to better understand why high school students who are old for their grade are more likely to enroll in college than students who are young. The article discusses how the age at which one starts school has implications for each student as well as for the class as a whole.


MULTIMEDIA

Robert Sternberg and the Triangular Theory of Love

Robert Sternberg was interviewed on October 9, 2018 for the podcastWhat Makes Us Human?from Cornell University's College of Arts & Sciences. This is the podcast's third season, "What Do We Know About Love?" and Dr. Sternberg discusses his "Triangular Theory of Love."


 

Developmental psychologist Charles Brainerd to receive APA award

Charles Brainerd

Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and human neuroscience, will receive the American Psychological Association’s G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at the APA’s August 2019 meeting in San Francisco.

Regarded as the highest honor in the field of developmental psychology, the award is given to an individual or research team who has made distinguished contributions to developmental psychology in research, student training and other scholarly endeavors.

Brainerd’s research has had an impact on educational, developmental and cognitive psychology, and he is credited with major breakthroughs across his theoretical and empirical work.

“Chuck has done groundbreaking work in human memory and reasoning through experimental behavioral methods, mathematical models and neuroscience techniques,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development and department chair. “He co-developed fuzzy-trace theory of memory, judgment and decision-making that has been widely applied in the law and in medicine. His work exemplifies the best integration of theory-driven experimentation and evidence-based translational research.”

According to the APA, the award is based on the scientific merit of the individual’s work, the importance of this work for opening up new empirical or theoretical areas of developmental psychology, and the importance of the individual’s work linking developmental psychology with issues confronting society or with other disciplines.

Brainerd’s current research centers on the relationship between memory and higher reasoning abilities in children and adults, also focusing on false-memory phenomena, cognitive neuroscience, aging and neurocognitive impairment.

He has published more than 300 research articles and chapters and more than 20 books. His research covers human memory and decision-making, statistics and mathematical modeling, cognitive neuroscience, learning, intelligence, cognitive development, learning disability and child abuse.

Brainerd has been elected to the National Academy of Education; is a fellow of the Division of General Psychology, the Division of Experimental Psychology, the Division of Developmental Psychology and the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association; and is a fellow of the American Psychological Society.

The editor of the journal Developmental Review, Brainerd has served as associate editor for journals including Child Development and The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Brainerd’s win of the 2019 G. Stanley Hall Award immediately follows the 2018 win of Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development.

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.

Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, "Staff-family communication key to assisted living success" by Stephen D'Angelo

Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development.

New research by Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development and senior associate dean for research and outreach in the College of Human Ecology, has demonstrated an effective approach to reduce staff-family conflict in assisted living facilities – an important aspect of ensuring the well-being of residents in care.

“Staff members and relatives of residents can sometimes experience communication problems and interpersonal conflict with one another leading to distress on the family side and an increase in burnout and the likelihood of leaving the job on the staff side,” said Pillemer. “In some cases, problems between families and staff can negatively affect the residents’ well-being.”

Although forging partnerships between families and staff in assisted living is desirable, said Pillemer, few programs exist that promote such positive relationships. In response to this need, Pillemer and colleagues at the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging developed the Partners in Caregiving in Assisted Living Program (PICAL).

“We designed PICAL to address these problems by enhancing communication skills, fostering empathy between families and staff, and engaging individuals in discussions about how their assisted-living community could help break down barriers between the two groups,” Pillemer said. “It is based on extensive evidence that communication training in health care settings has a positive impact on patients.”

The program was tested in assisted-living centers across eight states where facilities were assigned either to receive the program or to a control group. PICAL involves two workshop series, one for assisted-living staff and one for residents’ family members. Training, averaging three hours in length, was primarily structured around advanced listening skills, communicating clearly and respectfully, and handling blame, criticism and conflict.

Upon completion of the training, staff and family members met to discuss their concerns and to identify at least one issue for change within the facility and a plan for next steps.

A total of 576 staff members and 295 family members from the control and treatment groups provided survey data on their relationship. Data were collected from the treatment group pre- and post-training to help show its impact.

The findings confirmed that family-staff relationships are sometimes challenging in assisted living, similar to nursing homes, and that an intervention can improve these relationships. Family members and staff reported they felt the program was highly effective and led to improved communication and improved relationships. The study found the strongest effects on staff, who reported a significant reduction in conflicts with family members and lower rates of burnout over the study period. Similar patterns were found for families, although the results did not reach statistical significance.

For Pillemer and PICAL, communication between both parties involved is vital for success.

“Assisted-living communities can enhance the experiences of both families and staff by providing training in communication skills and conflict resolution, which is likely to lead to improved care for residents,” he said. “Such efforts should increase the likelihood that family and staff see themselves as partners – and not as opponents – in the care of their loved ones.”

The study, which was funded by a research grant from the American Seniors Housing Association, was published Oct. 17 in Seniors Housing & Care Journal, where it won the Outstanding Research Paper of the Year award.

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communication in the College of Human Ecology.

Crossing Disciplines and the Lifespan

Qi Wang, Chair of Department of Human Development

Reprinted from APS.org, September 28, 2018.

In a new recurring feature, the Observer showcases university labs and departments that have advanced integrative science. In the inaugural installment, APS Fellow Qi Wang talks about Cornell University’s Department of Human Development, which she chairs.   

 

What is the history of the department? What was its genesis?

The Department of Human Development at Cornell University is an interdisciplinary entity that uses multiple approaches, methods, and levels of analysis to study human development across the lifespan and integrates basic and translational research to enhance development and well-being in diverse contexts and populations. The department distinguishes itself with an ecological view of development as unfolding in multiple overlapping contexts. It has consistently been ranked as one of the top human development programs in the country.

The department, founded in 1925, was one of the first departments in the United States established by a university that focused on child development within the context of the family. Over the past 90 years, the mission of the department has expanded to include the full lifespan: Adolescence and emerging adulthood were added to early childhood development during the 1960s, and adulthood and aging were added during the 1980s. The study of contextual influences has expanded outside of the family to a greater number and variety of contexts, including peer groups, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. The faculty have come to include scholars of multiple disciplines and methodologies. Currently, the department has a professorial faculty of 24. Undergraduate majors typically number between 250 and 300, with approximately 35 masters and doctoral students in residence.

How has it evolved over the years?

The department has become increasingly dynamic and integrative. It has maintained its ecological focus, exemplified by the influential work of APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Urie Bronfenbrenner, APS Past Board Member Steve Ceci, and others, and in the meantime has redefined the ecological perspective to align with the development of the general field. This is reflected in our study of an increasing number and variety of contexts and their interactions with developmental (social, cognitive, biological) processes across the lifespan. We increasingly emphasize interdisciplinary and integrative approaches that span areas of psychology (cognitive, developmental, clinical, social, cultural), along with law, neuroscience, sociology, education, and history. We recently recruited a computational political scientist who studies social networks, political communication, online social support, and health. The department also has evolved to increasingly focus on culture and diversity, examining basic developmental processes in relation to a variety of demographic factors including socioeconomic status, gender, race and ethnicity, and cultural background.

Our interest in advanced methodologies is reflected in the addition of neuroscience, biological/life sciences, and data science in the department and in the importance we place on multiple levels of analysis. From the sociology and psychology of health and aging to the neuroscience of memory, emotions, and decision-making, the department mixes equally observational and correlational studies with rigorous experimental approaches and interventions within and outside the laboratory. The department has made a strong investment in neuroscience, being the only human development program in the country to house an MRI facility. The department is also unique among human development programs in housing a nonhuman animal laboratory, allowing us to lead examinations of lifespan developmental changes in the brain and behavior and how they are shaped by diverse environmental contexts, early life experiences, and genes and their expression. The recent addition of social networks research and data science further extends our interdisciplinary strengths.

The department embraces translational activities and “use-inspired research,” seeking evidence-based solutions for real-world problems. Both its pedagogy and outreach are research-based — often research conducted by the very faculty member teaching a particular course or engaging in a particular outreach activity.

How many faculty members are in the department? What departments or disciplines are represented?

The department has consistently attracted a distinguished faculty. Many mainstream psychological scientists have decided to join our faculty, with four of our newer faculty leaving tenured positions at top psychology programs. In the past year, we have recruited four assistant professors who are among the very best of their cohort. Several members of our faculty hold National Academy memberships, including the National Academy of Education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine. Members of our faculty have garnered just about every prestigious award within psychological science, including the APS William James Fellow Award, the APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, the G. Stanley Hall Award, the Society for Research in Child Development Senior Distinguished Contributions Award, and the E. L. Thorndike Award. The department has a professorial faculty of 24, from various disciplines within psychology, sociology, political and information science, and neuroscience.

The research topics of the faculty fall into three general areas: Law and Human Development (LHD), Health and Wellbeing (HW), and Cognition in Context (CC). All areas are characterized by interdisciplinary focus, lifespan perspective, cultural diversity, multiple approaches, methods, and levels of analysis, and integrative basic and translational research to study real-world problems.

The LHD area assembles a group of world-class psychologists and legal scholars to study the interplay of law, psychology, and human development. It offers a top-notch PhD–JD dual degree program. The HW area houses leading research on typical and atypical development across the lifespan in diverse populations. Faculty in this area examine the relation between mental and physical health in response to contextual factors and have produced groundbreaking and policy-shaping work. The CC area offers the most dynamic and rigorous investigations of the developing mind in interaction with a variety of biological, social, and cultural factors. Faculty conduct research using neuroimaging, EEG, cross-species modeling, field and laboratory experiments, and longitudinal designs to understand fundamental processes underlying human mind and behavior in context.

What would you describe as the most surprising or unexpected collaborations that psychological scientists have been able to join or lead within the department?

Every generation brings new scholars from diverse disciplines to our department. Their research transforms the department into new directions and in the meantime also is transformed by the interdisciplinary culture of the department. Often they collaborate across disciplinary lines. One example is an outstanding young neuroscientist we hired, who began a collaboration with a sociologist in HD who studies aging. It is the sort of collaboration that would be unlikely in a homogenous setting. There are many similar instances of cross-disciplinary collaborations to study machine learning, affective neuroscience, decision-making, and so forth, within and outside of the department. The disciplines that have been involved in HD faculty’s collaborative research include law, particle physics, mathematics, microbiology, biomedical engineering, business, behavioral economics, communication, and information science.

Here are some of the current cross-disciplinary collaborations of our faculty:

  • A cognitive developmental scientist is working with a sociologist from Cornell’s sociology department and a particle physicist at the Fermi Lab in Batavia, Illinois, to conduct a study on women in science.
  • A cognitive developmentalist is working with a law professor at the University of Michigan on children’s testimonial competence.
  • A sociologist is working with a team of physicians and health-care providers to conduct intervention research and policy analysis related to aging and health care, using evidence-based methods to develop a competent, caring, long-term care workforce.
  • An HD neuroscientist is working with an HD sociologist on Alzheimer’s disease research.
  • An HD member has had a long-term collaboration with a professor of pediatrics at another university around the evaluation of outcomes associated with the Nurse Family Partnership program.
  • A member of HD collaborates with a member of our business school faculty on cultural influences on bias.
  • A sociologist has been collaborating with both a pediatrics professor and an epidemiologist to examine the impact of poverty-related stressors on the cognitive and physical development of children in low-income families. She also works with two members of the Communications Department at Cornell to develop social-media use for health care among older adults.
  • Another member works with a pediatrician/public health scholar in another university on the projected behavioral impacts of global climate change.
  • An HD neuroscientist collaborates with a microbiologist here on the gut–brain axis and the biome.
  • Faculty from an education department, a mathematics department, and a veterinary school have also worked with our faculty members.

Has forming an interdisciplinary entity such as this made it easier or more challenging to obtain grant funding and get research published?

Our interdisciplinary focus has made us more competitive in obtaining grant funding and getting the research published. Specifically, our research often cuts across the more traditional categories of psychology and amplifies their applied nature.

On the one hand, our faculty has demonstrated “mainstream” excellence. Our publications appear in all of the top specialty psychological journals and the top general–general journals. Our faculty also frequently publish in top specialty journals in nondevelopmental core areas of psychology. In addition to the research being of the highest quality, a key reason for our success in publishing is that our research targets theoretical and empirical questions that our peers perceive as important, no matter whether they do or don’t fit into intuitive categories.

On the other hand, our faculty also excel in many integrative and interdisciplinary publishing outlets and make broad scholarly contributions beyond their core areas and beyond psychological science. Our publications also appear in nonpsychology journals such as those focused on sociology, education, anthropology, and medicine, and as a result our work has reached vastly different audiences. In addition to peer-reviewed articles in journals outside psychology, our faculty have also published a range of influential books, op-ed pieces, and Chronicle of Higher Education articles that address a wide range of audiences. Oftentimes, building a reputation for solid work in core psychological science journals opens up opportunities for important broader contributions.

Part of the “translation” and “interdisciplinary” process is collaborating with colleagues outside the disciplines in which we were trained. There are many good examples in our department as noted earlier. Pertaining to publication, for example, several faculty have collaborated with researchers in medical fields and published in major health-related journals with high impact factors, including The Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics, Annals of Internal Medicine, New England Journal of Medicine, and the American Journal of Public Health.

What are the strategies that the department has utilized in maintaining its top-rank position in the field?

One strategy is related to our hiring priorities. We hire the best people available through open searches, without constraints based on current research areas or rank. We also actively seek opportunities to hire targeted senior faculty who are superstars in the field. We are fortunate to have a very supportive dean who lets us conduct open searches and prefill lines with strong candidates and who does not rescind lines after unsuccessful searches. In addition, our faculty overwhelmingly support hiring the best people, regardless of area.

Another strategy is to self-reflect on our current research topics and to allow the department to evolve as scholarship and policy needs change. Over the years, there have been important shifts in research emphases as fields have either changed direction or ceased to exist with faculty retirement or leave.

Another effective strategy is to establish a mentoring system for junior faculty. Each nontenured junior faculty in the department is provided with a mentoring committee as soon as he/she arrives on campus. The committee consists of three tenured faculty whose research is in a similar area as that of the junior faculty. The committee provides honest and constructive written feedback to the mentee at the end of each year, which is then discussed with the mentee in person as well as reported to the general faculty. The feedback acknowledges the mentee’s achievements in research, teaching, and service and in the meantime helps the mentee identify any issues so they can be effectively addressed early on. Because of this supportive system and because we strive to hire the best people in the first place, our junior faculty have been extremely successful in their work. Many have come to be leading researchers in their respective fields. We have four APS Rising Stars, and many junior faculty have received young investigator awards from major organizations. In the past 15 years, we have not had a single case of denied tenure.

FEATURES

Stephen Ceci awarded APA's highest honor for developmental psychology

Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development, will receive the American Psychological Associations’ G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at APA’s August 2018 meeting in San Francisco.


PRYDE forum focuses on youth and social media

More than 50 Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and 4-H program leaders, youth service providers from community agencies and Cornell faculty members discussed productive social media use and youth development.


The lasting effects of childhood poverty

Gary Evans is interviewed about his research on the influence of childhood poverty on biology, health, and development.


The "Diana Effect" - How Princess Diana helped many seek help for bulimia

On the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, Jane Mendle credits Diana with helping remove the stigma of mental illness and bulimia.


Aging brains make seniors vulnerable to financial scams

SprengIn a new paper, Nathan Spreng reports that some seniors are more at risk than others to scams because of age-related changes in their brains.


STUDENTS IN THE NEWS

Lindsay Dower - Outstanding Senior Award 2017

Lindsay Dower ‘17 spent her four years at Cornell working to improve the lives of both those within the College of Human Ecology and in the broader Ithaca community, truly embodying the mission of the college.


MULTIMEDIA

Valerie Reyna - member of the National Academy of Medicine

 


 

Reprinted from CBS News' Healthday, April 14, 2017

by Maureen Salamon

A pair of key differences in the brain may help distinguish which seniors are at risk of falling prey to financial scams, a small new study suggests.

The first-of-its-kind study found a biological basis -- rather than poor decision-making skills -- underlying financial exploitation in the elderly. These findings might lead to a way to predict which seniors are susceptible to scams, the researchers said.

Such scams affect about 5 percent of older adults after age 60, said study author Nathan Spreng. He’s director of Cornell University’s Laboratory of Brain and Cognition.

Spreng

Nathan Spreng

“We suspect these are brain changes that occurred prior to [seniors] being exploited that rendered them vulnerable to exploitation... It could have been something that emerged as they were aging,” Spreng said.

“We think it’s probably more of an age-related change to the brain,” he added. “We don’t necessarily think this is a lifelong brain difference.”

About 45 million Americans were age 65 and older in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The true incidence of financial scams in this age group is probably underestimated. Spreng said that many older adults are unaware that they were scammed or unwilling to report being exploited.

Prior research indicated that family members are the most common financial abusers of seniors. In Spreng’s study, a grandson continued to steal even after being confronted by the study participant. In other examples, a daughter charged $2,000 to a study participant’s account without permission, and a son’s girlfriend borrowed $4,000 and never paid it back.

Spreng and his team evaluated 13 older adults who had been robbed by family members or neighbors, or scammed online or by phone. The researchers compared that group to 13 peers who’d been exposed to a potentially exploitative scheme, but recognized and avoided it.

Forty-five behavioral tests were performed on both groups to measure aspects such as memory, personality, financial reasoning, and the ability to pay attention to information and evaluate it. Additionally, MRI scans were performed on the participants’ brains.

The only behavioral difference that emerged between the groups was more anger and hostility in those who’d been scammed. But the brain images were more telling: Exploited seniors showed more shrinkage and less connectivity in two key areas of the brain.

One brain region, known as the anterior insula, signals when something significant is happening. This area was significantly reduced in the exploited group of seniors, which suggests their brains weren’t signaling that they faced a risky situation, according to the study authors.

The other brain region, called the medial prefrontal cortex, helps read social cues, such as people’s intentions. The scammed seniors also showed more shrinkage and fewer neural connections in this area, the findings showed.

The researchers also found the networks of both affected brain regions were more connected to each other. This suggests the combination of effects might leave those seniors more vulnerable to scams.

S. Duke Han is a spokesperson for the American Federation for Aging Research. He said this study’s results are preliminary because of the small number of people studied.

“There also could be other reasons for why these brain imaging differences might be seen -- there may be differences in cardiovascular health, nutrition or another variable not accounted for, and this isn’t a large enough study to address those,” said Han.

Han and Spreng agreed that studying financial scams in the elderly is a difficult task.

“The topic can be seen as very embarrassing for older adults who become the victims of financial exploitation, so it’s hard to get them to agree to be recruited for this type of research,” Han said.

Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings and perhaps identify markers -- both biological and behavioral -- to identify who’s most at risk of scams, Spreng said.

“Overall, our objective is to help with identifying people who may be vulnerable but don’t know it, and help build up additional protections for them,” Spreng said.

“The consequences are just so devastating for people’s well-being and quality of life and, ultimately, their health when they lose their life savings. We’re trying to tackle this problem as a biological issue,” Spreng said.

Time, June 22, 2017

By Amanda MacMillan

Happiness isn't the only emotion that can help you stay healthy as you age. How excited, amused, proud, strong and cheerful you feel on a regular basis matters, too. In a new study, people who experienced the widest range of positive emotions had the lowest levels of inflammation throughout their bodies. Lower inflammation may translate to a reduced risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Past research has shown that positive emotions may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, but the new study, published in the journal Emotion, looks at whether the range and variety of those feelings play a role as well. Evolution suggests that they would; drawing on the evolutionary advantages of ecosystems with plenty of biodiversity, researchers from the United States and Germany wondered if similar perks may exist for variety within the human emotional experience. Such a range may improve physical and mental health by “preventing an overabundance or prolonging of any one emotion from dominating an individuals’ emotional life," they write.

The researchers asked 175 middle-age adults to keep a daily log of their emotional experiences for a month by recording how often and how strongly they experienced each of 32 different emotions: 16 positive (like being enthusiastic, interested and at ease) and 16 negative (such as being scared, upset, jittery and tired). Six months later, scientists tested their blood samples for markers of systemic inflammation, a known risk factor for many chronic health conditions and for early death.

Anthony Ong

Overall, people who reported a wide range of positive emotions on a day-to-day basis had less inflammation than people who reported a smaller range—even if their overall frequencies of positive emotions were similar. That was true even after researchers controlled for traits like extraversion and neuroticism, body mass index, medication use, medical conditions and demographics. (Surprisingly, a similar effect was not observed for the other end of the spectrum. It didn't seem to matter for inflammation whether people regularly experienced many or only a few variations of negative emotions.)

Lead author Anthony Ong, professor of human development at Cornell University, suspects that people may be able to maximize these benefits by more closely examining their emotions. “When it comes to infusing more diverse positive emotions into our lives, it may turn out to be a simple daily practice of labeling and categorizing positive emotions in discrete terms,” he says. “Pay attention to your inner emotions and be able to mentally recognize situations that make you feel calm versus, say, excited.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers a 6-credit continuing education course based on the book, Emotion, Aging and Health by Anthony Ong and Corinna Loeckenhoff.

Although older adults face significant health challenges, they tend to have better emotion regulation skills than younger or middle-age adults. Why is this so? And how might we use this knowledge to promote better health and well-being in adulthood and later life?

This book explores the reciprocal relations between aging and emotion, as well as applications for promoting mental and physical health across the lifespan. The authors discuss the neural and cognitive mechanisms behind age-related shifts in affective experience and processing.

In addition to presenting emotion regulation strategies for offsetting age-related declines in mental and physical functioning, the book examines the role of culture and motivation in shaping emotional experience across the lifespan, as well as the factors defining boundary conditions between human illness and human flourishing in old age.

By highlighting these major advances in interdisciplinary research, the authors suggest promising avenues for intervention.

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the reciprocal relations between aging and emotion.
  • Explain the neural and cognitive mechanisms behind age-related shifts in affective experience and processing.
  • Apply emotion regulation strategies to offset age-related declines in mental and physical functioning.

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