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The science of successful aging


By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

What’s the secret to successful aging?  That’s the question two BCTR researchers took on at a panel discussion “The Science of Successful Aging” at the 2017 International Convention on Psychological Science, where thousands of researchers from more than 70 countries gathered to share research findings and techniques.

headshot of corinna loeckenhoff

Corinna Loeckenhoff

BCTR faculty affiliate Corinna Lockenhoff, associate professor of human development, chaired the panel. She began by discussing the idea of “successful aging,” which today often means thriving socially and intellectually in older adulthood.

“The concept may not generalize across cultures,” she said. “But one clear benefit of this new perspective on aging is that it encourages renewed focus on the processes that contribute to positive age-related outcomes.”

Lockenhoff said the panel sparked an interesting conversation because researchers approached the concept of successful aging from different vantage points.

“The presenters each highlighted a different approach to promote successful aging – from cardiovascular and strength training to cognitive and social engagement,” she said. “Ideally we should design interventions that integrate multiple aspects into one program.

“The audience in the symposium was composed of top researchers from around the world and it was fascinating to hear their ideas for realizing such programs within different cultural contexts,” she said.

Headshot of Karl Pillemer

Karl Pillemer

During the panel, BCTR director Karl Pillemer presented his work about aging adults' need to engage in meaningful activities.

Social isolation is a major problem later if life, Pillemer said. That’s because as older adults start to experience losses due to divorce, death, and geographical mobility, they also tend to transition out of full-time employment. This transition often results in older adults losing the sense of purpose that comes with full-time work.

Pillemer and BCTR colleagues have been evaluating an intervention program called Retirees in Service to the Environment, or RISE, to help aging adults regain their sense of purpose. RISE engages retirees in volunteer positions around environmental issues. RISE participants receive training about environmental topics and how to apply their skills in a volunteer capacity. Then, participants each build and implement an environmental stewardship project.

In studies of RISE, adults who participate reported an increased sense that they were contributing to the next generation and an improved sense of social integration.

“We really have no alternative other than to address these issues,” Pillemer said. “We can’t promote successful aging, based on what we know, without also engaging in the promotion of social integration.”

Other participants in the panel were Teresa Liu-Ambrose from Department of Physical Therapy at The University of British Columbia; Monica Fabiani in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Denise C. Park from The Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas.

At the same conference, Lockenhoff led a workshop called “Age Differences in Time Perception: Translating Findings from Lab to Life,” which provided an overview of age-related shifts in different aspects of time perception and offered examples of how such concepts can be studied along the translational continuum.

Related:

Connecting Retirees to Conservation

Climate Change and Vulnerable Populations

"Aging is not Dying" - podcast episode with Corinna Loeckenhoff

Loeckenhoff reaps early-career award in gerontology

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Talks at Twelve: Heather Derry and Elizabeth Luth, Wednesday, May 2, 2018

 
portraits of Heather Derry and Elizabeth Luth

Two talks by Behavioral Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine postdocs
Heather Derry and Elizabeth Luth, Behavioral Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine Weill Cornell Medical College

Wednesday, May 2, 2018
12:00-1:00 PM
Beebe Hall, 2nd floor conference room



Stress and Cognition in Clinical Discussions:  Exploring the Impact on Prognostic Understanding for Advanced Cancer Patients
Heather Derry, PhD, T32 Postdoctoral Fellow, Behavioral Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College

For patients with advanced cancer, clinical discussions about prognosis can be stressful.  In addition, patients’ prognostic understanding is often limited, which presents challenges for informed decision-making.  Laboratory-based research provides insight into the ways that stress influences our physical, emotional, and cognitive responses.  Heather will discuss how these responses may interface with clinical discussions in the context of advanced cancer, and future studies to assess the impact of stress and emotion on patients’ understanding of their illness.

Understanding Race Disparities in End-of-Life Care for Patients Living with Dementia
Elizabeth Luth, PhD, T32 Postdoctoral Fellow, Behavioral Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College

Research documents racial and ethnic disparities in end-of-life (EOL) care, where patients from racial and ethnic minority groups receive more aggressive, burdensome care, and have less access to quality-of-life promoting care at EOL. However, disparities in EOL care are not well understood for the growing population of patients with dementia. Elizabeth will share results from two recent studies of race, dementia, advance care planning, and assessments of EOL care quality and how those findings link to her current research on racial and ethnic differences in terminal hospital care and unfavorable hospice outcomes for patients with dementia.

portrait of Heather DerryHeather Derry is a T32 postdoctoral associate in Behavioral Geriatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine.  She completed her PhD in psychology at the Ohio State University, where her dissertation work evaluated how physical fitness impacts cognitive function among post-surgery breast cancer survivors.  She also completed a clinical health psychology internship at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA, with training emphases in geropsychology, primary care mental health integration, and women's addictions treatment.  Heather’s graduate-level research focused on the behavioral and physiological connections between stress, lifestyle factors, and health.  Her current work aims to assess mental health symptoms in seriously ill medical patients during and following hospital discharge, with the goal of enhancing post-discharge mental and physical health.

portrait of Elizabeth LuthElizabeth Luth is a T32 postdoctoral associate in Behavioral Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. She completed her PhD in sociology at Rutgers University.  Elizabeth's graduate research focused on social and demographic disparities in assessments of end-of-life care quality for deceased older adults. At Weill Cornell, she is extending this work by investigating racial and ethnic disparities in quality of care for patients with advanced dementia near the end of life.


Lunch will be served. Metered parking is available in the Botanic Gardens lot across the road from Beebe Hall. No registration or RSVP required except for groups of 5 or more. We ask that larger groups email Lori Biechele at lb274@cornell.edu letting us know of your plans to attend so that we can order enough lunch.

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Matthew Avila awarded Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship


Portrait Matthew Avila

Matthew Avila

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Matthew Avila, a senior in the Department of Human Development, will receive this year’s Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship for students interested in pursuing a career in gerontology. The scholarship was established by an anonymous Cornell alumnus living at Kendal of Ithaca, a continuing care retirement community located a mile from the Cornell campus.

Avila is working towards a gerontology minor as part of his bachelor’s degree, and plans to pursue a career researching the relationship between aging and disease.

“I want to explore the idea that growing old and disease are two separate constructs,” Avila said. “In other words, I will use the knowledge I gained from gerontology to fight against the stigma of aging, reduce age-related bias in my research, make accurate conclusions about the aging population, and produce good science.”

Corinna Loeckenhoff, the director of Cornell’s Gerontology Minor Program as well as Avila’s honors thesis advisor, commented, “What impressed the jurors about Matthew’s application is his continuous engagement with gerontology across multiple areas ranging from formal classwork to research and volunteering.”

At Cornell, Avila is involved with the Alzheimer’s Help and Awareness Club, a team of students dedicated to raising public awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and supporting Alzheimer’s patients.

And last summer, he was a research assistant at Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, where he worked on a brain-imaging study to examine how older adults who suffer from depression regulate their emotions.

“This experience provided me with the opportunity to learn how to do research in older populations as it relates to mental health and emotion regulation, and develop my skill set for research design,” he said.

This is the 17th year of the Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship. The donor, who built a career in the corporate world after graduating from Cornell in the 1940’s, first learned about gerontology work at  Cornell by participating in a study about the transition to living in a retirement community.

The donor’s goal was to build a lasting link between Kendal at Ithaca and Cornell so that “more students have a chance to learn about the colorful, interesting lives and careers of retirees, and more residents have an opportunity to better understand students of today – their hopes, thoughts, and dreams.”

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Welcome visiting scholar Peter Lloyd-Sherlock


Peter Lloyd-Sherlock

Peter Lloyd-Sherlock

The BCTR welcomes visiting scholar Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, a professor of social policy and international development at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Lloyd-Sherlock’s research focuses on the health and well-being of older adults in low- and middle-income countries.

“As the Bronfenbrenner Center continues to extend its international reach, we are excited to have Peter join us,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the BCTR. “He is a noted expert on old-age policy in developing countries, with extensive experience working in Africa and Latin America. We will also benefit from his expertise in aging, which is a growing emphasis of the center.”

Peter Lloyd-Sherlock currently has active research projects in Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, and South Africa. At the BCTR, he hopes to apply some of the insights from center research on U.S. nursing homes to poorer countries, where nursing homes are becoming increasingly widespread and regulation is very weak, he said.

“Contrary to popular belief, more older people live in the developing world than in the rich north,” he said. “Despite this, the condition of older people and the wider effects of population aging are still seen as peripheral concerns in development policy.”

Recently, he led a study to develop new ways to audit residential care quality in La Plata, Argentina. The country has 6,000 care homes for older people. Media reports often reveal poor quality care, in some cases amounting to abuses of residents’ human rights. Most care homes in Argentina are unregulated, which makes it difficult to collect data about the quality of care.

Lloyd-Sherlock serves as an advisor for a several of international agencies, including the World Health Organization, United Nations Women, and HelpAge International.

Lloyd-Sherlock is delivering a BCTR Talk at Twelve titled Researching Unregulated Residential Care Homes in Argentina at noon on Wednesday, October 11 in the 2nd floor conference room at Beebe Hall.

And you can learn more about his work in this episode of our Doing Translational Research podcast: Ep. 15: Aging and Insecurity

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Joining forces to ease chronic pain


triplllogo-smallerBy Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Pain relievers are some of the most commonly-used medicines among older adults. But a Cornell-based organization called the Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life, or TRIPLL, is exploring alternative ways to alleviate pain in older adults.

TRIPLL is one of the most active and long-standing collaborations among the Cornell campuses — comprising researchers and graduate students at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Researcher (BCTR), Weill Cornell Medicine, and Cornell Tech, plus dozens of community organizations serving seniors in New York City.

“It’s a very broad and deep collaboration,” said Karl Pillemer, TRIPLL co-director and director of the BCTR. “Because of our use of video conferencing, Skype and frequent meetings, it’s honestly not much different than if we were all in the same building. A number of us work with our TRIPLL colleagues even more than with people on our own campuses.”

TRIPLL was founded in 2009 with a grant from the National Institute on Aging. It is one of 12 federally-funded Edward R. Roybal Centers for Translational Research on Aging across the nation; each one focuses on a different aspect related to the health and well-being of older Americans.

TRIPLL brings together faculty from a variety of disciplines, including clinical medicine, epidemiology, gerontology, the social and behavioral sciences, computer science to focus non-pharmacologic methods of pain relief.

“Pain is a huge problem — it’s one of the things that keeps people homebound,” says Riverdale Senior Services director Julia Schwartz-Leeper, who regularly uses the institute’s webinars to train her staff. “The work that TRIPLL does is critically important.”

Karl Pillemer and Elaine Wethington

Karl Pillemer and Elaine Wethington

As the American population ages, the issue of treating pain in older adults is only getting more pressing. TRIPLL co-director Dr. Elaine Wethington, a medical sociologist and an associate director at the BCTR, notes that one-third of older adults has chronic pain — “and the majority of those find inadequate relief.”

Effective, evidence-based alternatives to pharmaceuticals are needed because many older adults have pre-existing conditions, such as heart failure or kidney problems, that pain medicines can exacerbate. The epidemic of opioid abuse also complicates matters. Fear of addiction may discourage older people from taking pain drugs. And reducing the number of opioid prescriptions keeps the drugs out of a medicine cabinet where they could be misused by family members or others, Pillemer said.

“Our inability to deal with chronic pain through non-drug methods is a huge problem,” he said. “In terms of an issue that makes the largest number of people miserable, chronic pain is at the top. But it’s not a high-profile problem that has an easy cure, so it doesn’t attract as much research funding.”

In an effort to combat the problem, TRIPLL’s researchers award grants for pilot studies; hold monthly seminars linking researchers on the various campuses; mentor graduate students, post-docs, fellows and junior faculty; and serve as a resource to New York City community service agencies, whose tens of thousands of clients provide a deep bench of volunteers for research studies.

“For years there’s been a consensus among researchers that pain is not just a biological phenomenon, it’s also a social and a psychological one, but there are few centers in the United States that look at pain from this biopsychosocial perspective,” Wethington said. “Our commitment is to understand these aspects as completely as we can — to get really smart people working on them, to publish papers in places where they’ll have an effect on practice.”

This story is adapted from an article that was first published in Weill Cornell Medicine, Vol. 16, No. 1.

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Spring 2017 Talks at Twelve


This semester we welcome speakers from across campus and across the U.S. for our spring 2017 Talks at Twelve series. Talks at Twelve are held in the Beebe Hall second floor conference room and lunch is served. These talks are free and open to all. No RSVP or registration is required, but notice is appreciated if a larger group is planning to attend (email pmt6@cornell.edu).

Wednesday, February 22, 12:00-1:00pm
Mental and Behavioral Health Facilities: Critical Research and Design Recommendations
Mardelle M. Shepley, Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University

comfortTuesday, March 7, 12:00-1:00pm
Beyond the Peer-Reviewed Article: Making Research Relevant for Community Stakeholders and Policymakers
Megan Comfort, Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Research Division, Research Triangle Institute

Thursday, March 16, 12:00-1:00pm
Pain and Presence: The Clinical Use of Media
Andrea Stevenson Won, Communication, Cornell University

Thursday, April 13, 12:00-1:00pm
Healthy Base Initiative: Evaluating Programs to Encourage Healthy Eating, Active Lifestyles, and Tobacco-Free Living
Marney Thomas, BCTR, Cornell University

Thursday, April 20, 12:00-1:00pm
Data Driven Policy-Making in Child Welfare
Dana Weiner, Chapin Hall Center for Children, University of Chicago

Tuesday, April 25, 12:00-1:00pm
Weill Cornell Behavioral Geriatrics: Cognitive Impairment in Hospitalized Adults & Palliative & Mental Health Care
Elissa Kozlov and Keiko Kurita, Weill Cornell Medical College

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Doing Translational Research podcast: Corinna Loeckenhoff, Thursday, April 19, 2018

headshot of corinna loeckenhoff View Media

Doing Translational Research podcast: Corinna Loeckenhoff

Aging is Not Dying
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Corinna Loeckenhoff
Department of Human Development, Cornell University


Aging is Not Dying
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Corinna Loeckenhoff
Department of Human Development, Cornell University

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Gerontological Society selects experts on aging as fellows


By Tyler Alicea ‘16, MPS ‘17 for the College of Human Ecology tumblr

wethington loeckenhoff

Wethington and Loeckenhoff

For their work on aging, two College of Human Ecology faculty members have been named fellows for the Gerontological Society of America.

Corinna Loeckenhoff, associate professor of human development and associate professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC), and Elaine Wethington, professor of human development and of sociology and professor of gerontology in geriatrics at WCMC, were two of 94 professionals named on May 31 to the society, which is the largest of its kind seeking to understand aging in the United States.

As fellows, Loeckenhoff and Wethington are being recognized for their “outstanding and continuing work in gerontology,” specifically in the behavioral and social sciences section of the society.

Loeckenhoff, who directs the Laboratory for Healthy Aging and oversees Cornell’s gerontology minor, researches various topics related to health, personality, and emotions across the lifespan. She has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses on the various aspects of adult development and healthy aging.

Wethington, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Human Development and associate director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, focuses on stress and how outside factors can affect one’s physical and mental health.

The society will formally recognize Loeckenhoff, Wethington, and its other new fellows at its 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans this November.

Gerontological Society selects experts on aging as fellows - College of Human Ecology tumblr

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Nursing home residents commonly abused by neighbors


By Heather Lindsey for the Cornell Chronicle:

pillemer lachs

Pillemer and Lachs

Twenty percent of people living in nursing homes are abused by other residents, according to a study by researchers in the College of Human Ecology and Weill Cornell Medicine.

“We were very surprised by the prevalence of aggression,” said senior author Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the College of Human Ecology’s Department of Human Development and professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, who published the findings June 13 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “We thought it would be common, but we did not anticipate that 1 in 5 people would be involved in a resident-to-resident incident.”

In addition to the physical injuries that can result from these abusive incidents, “the emotional toll that can result from being victimized incessantly can be overwhelming,” said lead author Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine and the Irene F. and I. Roy Psaty Distinguished Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The Cornell researchers and colleagues at the Research Division of Hebrew Home at Riverdale evaluated 2,011 residents in 10 nursing home facilities during a one-month period. Of those individuals, 407, or 20.2 percent, had experienced a least one resident-to-resident incident of mistreatment.

Nine percent of victims experienced verbal abuse. Five percent encountered physical abuse, and less than 1 percent sexual abuse. Another 5 percent suffered “other” types of abuse, such as invasion of privacy and menacing gestures.

The most common types of verbal aggression were screaming at another resident and using foul language. Physical aggression most often included hitting and pushing. Going into another resident’s room without permission and taking or touching another person’s property were common examples of invasion of privacy.

A major risk factor for aggression was cognitive impairment, said Pillemer, who is also director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell. “You have people who would otherwise not be violent but who have serious aggressive episodes,” he said.

People who were younger and more physically active, meaning they were able to wander into other residents’ rooms, were more likely to be involved in an abusive incident, he said.

Crowding in common spaces such as hallways and lounges also increased risk. Conflict occurred more frequently in the winter months, presumably when patients had limited space to interact indoors, and in nursing homes with lower staffing levels, said Lachs, who is also professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The first steps toward addressing the problem are improving staff awareness and developing clear protocols for dealing with aggression among residents, Pillemer said. Individualized care is also important. Some people who are at greater risk of becoming aggressors may need more supervision than others.

One obstacle to addressing this form of aggression is that regulatory agencies and media have traditionally focused on physical abuse of residents by staff.

“This certainly occurs, and we should have zero tolerance for it,” Lachs said. “But this study suggests that one is much more likely to experience physical or verbal harm from another resident than from a staff member.”

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Congrats to the 2015-16 Kendal Scholarship awardees


This year the BCTR awarded Kendal at Ithaca Scholarships, recognizing excellent student work in the field of gerontology, to Sylvia Lee, a sophomore in Human Biology, Health, and Society, and Arwah Yaqub, a senior in Near Eastern Studies.

Sylvia Lee

Sylvia Lee

"I am so excited and grateful to receive the scholarship. Whether I become a doctor or a researcher in the future, my dream is to help elders who suffer from chronic pain. Gerontology minor has offered me a new perspective on what my role at Cornell is and can be - I’m reminded that I’m not just a distressed pre-med student, who simply works towards becoming this person in the future, but that I’m given this opportunity to start living out my visions now, here on campus."

Beyond her coursework in gerontology, Sylvia worked in Nathan Spreng’s Laboratory of Brain and Cognition in the Department of Human Development throughout her freshmen year. There she focused on analyzing and collecting research participants’ memory and cognitive data by transcribing and conducting analysis on recalled autobiographical memories during fMRI tests. This fall semester, Sylvia began work in Corinna Loeckenhoff’s Laboratory for Healthy Aging, also in the Department of Human Development.

She recently joined Alzheimer’s Help and Awareness, a student-run organization, and received training to volunteer at Clare Bridge, a Brookdale Senior Living community that serves special-care needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Sylvia specifically has an interest in the study of neurodegenerative diseases and chronic pain in elders. She plans to pursue a career in medicine and research. Her current interest lies mostly in the molecular and neurobiological processes that underlie the causes of chronic pain in elders and how chronic pain is treated, cared for, and managed by healthcare providers and families.

Arwah Yaqub

Arwah Yaqub

"The Kendal Scholarship is a gracious opportunity that has helped nurture my passion for gerontology. The kind spirit and vision at the core of this award has been pivotal in helping me integrate other disciplines of study, most of which I initially believed were incongruous with the field. [the donor's] commitment to an education that elucidates the cultural, biological, and economic implications of gerontology, as well as experiential learning, is inspirational, to say the least."

Last year, Arwah served as a volunteer for MEDART, a committee associated with Cornell’s MEDLIFE student chapter. Through this committee, she provided company to residents of Ithaca’s Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing. Many of these residents are sensory impaired, her group designed simple, weekly art projects to do with residents. Joining the Alzheimer’s Help and Awareness Club at Cornell also helped fortify Arwah's passion for gerontology.

Arwah joined Corinna Loeckenhoff's Healthy Aging Lab over a year ago. The lab research aims to better understand age differences in social relations, personality traits, and emotional experiences and to unravel the effects of these three factors in health-related behaviors and outcomes.

As an aspiring physician, she believes that an understanding of aging across the lifespan is indispensable to the profession.

The Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship

To foster a closer tie between Cornell and Kendal at Ithaca, the nearby continuing care retirement community, an anonymous Cornell alumnus and Kendal resident established a Kendal at Ithaca Scholarship in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

Each year, the Kendal scholarship award goes to an undergraduate or graduate student interested in gerontology. Preference is given to a student who has some hands-on experience and is anticipating a career in the field.

The donor, who built a career in the corporate world after graduating from Cornell in the 1940s, wished to remain anonymous so that the focus of the scholarship is on the Kendal/Cornell connection. The donor pointed out that “creating a closer link between the two generations of Kendal and Cornell means more students have a chance to learn about the colorful, interesting lives and careers of retirees, and more residents have an opportunity to better understand students of today – their hopes, thoughts, and dreams. Greater involvement will be very stimulating for both.”

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