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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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Connecting retirees to conservation


retirees and solar panels

Retirees learn about sustainable energy during recent field trip to a solar-powered residence.

A new partnership between the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging and The Nature Conservancy is responding to two critical trends in society todaymounting concern about environmental sustainability and an aging population.

The Conservation Retirees in Service to the Environment program, an environmental education and leadership training program for adults over 60, is a new collaboration between the two organizations that builds on the original Retirees in Service to the Environment program (RISE), seeking to create environmental leaders who will play an active role as conservancy volunteers and environmental stewards in their communities.

“This program addresses the critical intersection of two important issues – environmental sustainability and an aging population,” said Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development, professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

“Retirees are an underutilized resource who have the time, talent and skills to help address issues like climate change, air and water pollution, waste management and the protection of natural areas.”

Bill Toomey, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health program, said, “The Nature Conservancy is excited to be partnering with Cornell to creatively engage older adults in the conservation actions that they can take individually or as part of a community in the care and stewardship of trees and natural habitats in their own backyards, neighborhoods and community.”

Program organizers conducted an extensive review of the research literature, focus group studies with older adult retirees and a pilot evaluation study. Based on the best available research evidence and practices in the field, including research conducted on aging and environmental issues at Cornell, the project provides 30 hours of training over a six-week period, culminating in a capstone volunteer project.

The training consists of a full-day introductory workshop, four weekly environmental workshops and a capstone stewardship project in the community and provides knowledge from expert speakers on climate change, water quality, soil contaminants, waste management and energy use.

“Through training in leadership and communication skill development, our objective is to improve participants’ effectiveness as environmental volunteers,” Pillemer said. “The educational component of the program also includes hands-on learning experience, such as field trips.”

The conservancy is interested in engaging community members of all ages in the care and stewardship of trees through the Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program. “We are also looking to support individual and community action through our Habitat Network program to create and maintain local habitats including pollinator, rain and food gardens that can help support wildlife populations and connect people to nature,” Toomey said.

According to Pillemer, the program provides more than environmental improvements to local communities, it also benefits the volunteers themselves.

“It provides potential physical and mental health benefits to participating older adults, including physical activity, exposure to nature and social opportunities, as well as a greater sense of purpose through the chance to improve the world for future generations.”

The Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging promotes translational research on aging, including the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative, evidence-based intervention programs. A focus of the institute, housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, is to promote the social integration of older people in the form of meaningful roles and relationships.

New partnership connects retirees to conservation - Cornell Chronicle

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