Tag Archives: Health and Wellness

What is the Recipe for Success? 5 Ways Cooking Can Keep You Young

recipe for success


By Erin Cochrane, Sam Gilchrist, and Anna Linden (Department of Psychology, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN)

Aging gracefully isn’t always a sweet process. The World Health Organization warns that malnutrition is a looming issue for our aging population1, but sensory losses can make food less appealing and increase risk for undereating and weight loss2. However, eating a variety of foods can boost consumption of micronutrients and help to prevent age-related diseases like osteoporosis and diabetes2. The recent uptick in subscription cooking services like Plated and Hello Fresh, which deliver fresh ingredients to customers’ homes, suggests that Americans are beginning to take charge of their own nutritional needs. Taking an active role in preparing our own food has been shown to benefit physical, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing as we get older. It seems as though healthy aging could boil down to spending more time in the kitchen, so here are five ways cooking can spice up your daily routine!



1. Increases physicality

The health benefits start even before any cooking happens! Before you can cook, you need to get ingredients; getting out to shop for your ingredients is a great way to add some exercise into a daily routine. Food preparation has repeatedly been associated with increased levels of physical activity and self-reported health-status4. The physical advantages of cooking don’t stop there, as research found that those who cook for themselves at least five times a week also had the highest rates of survivorship in a group of individuals over the age of 653. This was consistent even accounting for physical health and nutrition knowledge awareness, showing that anyone can benefit from cooking more of their own meals!

If possible, try to buy ingredients on a day-to-day basis. This will increase your daily exercise as well as ensuring you get the freshest ingredients.


2. Helps social and emotional health

Cooking classes can keep kitchen skills from getting stale: they not only improve nutritional habits in older adults, but psychological wellbeing as well5. According to The Guardian, these community classes are increasingly important in the face of budget cuts to programs like Meals on Wheels, and they provide an added bonus of increased independence6. Studies have also shown a relationship between home-based food activities and a strong sense of self, especially when connecting older adults to aspects of their heritage. Cooking traditional dishes and sharing them with a community can promote feelings of belonging and self-efficacy, in addition to joy at mastering new skills7,8.

Look into volunteering for community meals at local charity organizations, or invite friends and family over for a dinner party!


3. Improves diet quality

Cooking classes are beneficial for mental health and can also improve the quality of your meals! Researchers have found that older adults enrolled in cooking classes include more vegetables and fiber within their diets, which are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease5. The same study also showed that 98% of participants improved their overall nutritional knowledge, which is crucial to combatting the malnutrition of aging and controlling what one eats. It is also important to note that when you cook for yourself, you control what you eat. To boot, having higher control over caloric consumption is associated with improved quality of health throughout life9.

Eating healthier means knowing the nutritional value of the ingredients in your meals!


4. Maintains mental fitness

Cooking can also preserve your cognitive functioning with age. Research indicates that cognitive abilities generally decrease throughout the lifetime, with some individuals experiencing considerable losses in executive functioning10. These are the skills needed for planning, multitasking, and setting goals – the very abilities that keep you independent!

Don’t stew over that, though, because cooking may be able to offset these declines in cognition. Studies show:

  • Monitoring cooking times, prioritizing certain dishes, and setting a table forces cooks to use their prospective memories
  • The attentional demands of cooking have also been shown to transfer to similar tasks requiring constant updating or shifting attention

You can toast to that!

Try cooking a new recipe that involves many steps and challenges you to plan ahead.


5. Adapts to your unique situation

If you are no longer living independently, certain cooking modifications may serve up similar benefits. For those with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment, virtual cooking games like ‘kitchen and cooking’ have increased both speed and accuracy of executive functioning11. Updating your kitchen technology may also offset physical limitations and other age-associated hazards. For example, while elderly individuals are at increased risk for burns and fire, implementing oven sensors and cooking-safe systems can shut off power when needed12.

Third, meal delivery programs can replace traditional shopping for homebound adults. Companies like Blue Apron and Chef’d deliver pre-portioned ingredients and recipes to your home, so there is no need to drive. These modifications can keep you self-sufficient and safe in the kitchen.

If you feel you can no longer cook, look into virtual apps or meal delivery services to help support you!

Cooking for yourself provides more than just delicious, nutritious food; it is a cognitively demanding task that builds up physical health and social connections, helping to combat the specific deficits of aging. Dare we say it is a secret ingredient to aging successfully?

What benefits has cooking given to you? Share your thoughts, stories, and favorite recipes with us in the comments below!


For further reading:

1World Health Organization (2018). Nutrition for older persons. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ageing/en/index2.html

2Boyce, J. M., & Shone, G. R. (2006). Effects of ageing on smell and taste. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 82, 239-241. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.2005.039453

3Chen, R. C., Lee, M.-S., Chang, Y.-H., & Wahlqvist, M. L. (2011). Cooking frequency may enhance survival in Taiwanese elderly. Public Health Nutrition, 15, 1142-1149. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S136898001200136X

4Thompson, J. L., Bentley, G., Davis, M., Coulson, J., Stathi, A., & Fox, K. R. (2011). Food shopping habits, physical activity and health-related indicators among adults aged ≥70 years. Public Health Nutrition, 14, 1640-1649. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s1368980011000747

5Jyväkorpi, S. K., Pitkälä, K. H., Kautiainen, H., Puranen, T. M., Laakkonen, M. L., & Suominen, M. H. (2014). Nutrition education and cooking classes improve diet quality, nutrient intake, and psychological well-being of home-dwelling older people – a pilot study. Journal of Aging Research and Clinical Practice, 1, 4-8. http://dx.doi.org/10.14283/jarcp.2014.22

6Bernhardt, C. (2012). One foot in the gravy: the rise of cookery classes for older men. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/apr/10/cookery-classesolder-men

7Plastow, N. A., Atwal, A., & Gilhooly, M. (2014). Food activities and identity maintenance in old age: A systematic review and meta-synthesis. Aging & Mental Health, 19, 667-678. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2014.971707

8Kullberg, K., Björklund, A., Sidenvall, B., & Åberg, A. C. (2011). ‘I start my day by thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner’ – A qualitative study on approaches to food-related activities among elderly men with somatic diseases. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 25, 227-234. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6712.2010.00813.x

9Willcox, B. J., Willcox, D. C., Todoriki, H., Fujiyoshi, A., Yano, K., He, Q., Curb, J. D. and Suzuki, M. (2007), Caloric restriction, the traditional Okinawan diet, and healthy aging. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1114, 434–455. http://dx.doi.org/10.1196/annals.1396.037

10Braver, T. S., & West, R. (2008). Working memory, executive control, and aging. In F. I. M. Craik & T. A. Salthouse (Eds.), The handbook of aging and cognition (3rd ed., pp. 311–372). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

11Manera, V., Petit, P.-D., Derreumaux, A., Orvieto, I., Romagnoli, M., Lyttle, G., … Robert, P. H. (2015). “Kitchen and cooking,” a serious game for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: A pilot study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2015.00024

12Yared, R., & Abdulrazak, B. (2018). Risk analysis and assessment to enhance safety in a smart kitchen. Fire Technology, 1-23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10694-017-0696-5


Author Biographies:

Erin Cochrane is a senior at St. Olaf College, currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Neuroscience. She is interested in exploring the relationship between genetics and health, and in the future hopes to pursue graduate studies in either genetic counseling or medicine.

Anna Linden is a senior Psychology major at St. Olaf College, concentrating in Statistics. Her interests lie in the field of Human Factors and data analytics, and she’s looking forward to graduate school in the near future.

Samuel Gilchrist is a senior Psychology major at St. Olaf College. He is interested in the field of Behavioral Economics and studying the psychology behind personal financial decisions. In the future, he hopes to find a job in the field of advertising.

Let’s Talk About Sex — After 60


By Christina Pierpaoli Parker, MA (Geropsychology Doctoral Student, University of Alabama)



Science has started to pay attention to what happens between the sheets after 60, especially as medical advances permit us to live longer and healthier lives. Emerging research shows that older adults get busier than we think, finding that many adults remain sexual well into their 90s. As with other periods of development, sex in later life improves quality of life, mood, and health.


The Problem

But sex after 60 still has its consequences. Spikes in sexually transmitted disease (STDs) among older adults illustrate that. Compared to younger folks, older adults know less about STDs, underestimate their risk of infection, and practice safe sex less often. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reflect this, reporting that adults over 50 represent 15% of new HIV infections. By 2020, upwards of 70% of persons living with HIV will be 50 or older. Other STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, primary and secondary syphilis, show similar increases in older groups.


What’s going on?

Experts offer two explanations: (1) Treatment advances, such as antiretroviral therapy, have enabled already infected adults to live longer, inflating prevalence; and (2) the number of new infections (incidence) among older adults is increasing.


Fine, but why are adults becoming infected at all?

Growth in new infections altogether means recognizing that sex doesn’t retire after 60. Complex interactions of biopsychosocial factors underlie the incidence of STDs among older adults.


Biological factors. With normal aging, older adults experience changes in immune function, increasing their vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases. For example, the number and maturity of their T- cells—white blood cells that help fight infection—decrease, depressing immune responsiveness and aiding transmission.  Systemic reductions in testosterone and estrogen can thin the vaginal and anal mucosae and reduce vaginal lubrication, leaving many older men and women susceptible to tears during sex that can facilitate viral entry.


Psychological & behavioral factors. Older adults underestimate their risk for contacting sexually transmitted diseases. A recent study comparing actual and perceived sexual risk found that older adults with the greatest risk of contracting STDs were also the group least aware of their vulnerability. Cohort differences surrounding the 1960s rise of penicillin to treat STDs like syphilis may skew older adults’ identification with risky sexual behavior, explaining low rates of condom use among boomers especially. The widespread availability of erectile dysfunction medications in a climate of shifting divorce and dating patterns in later life— when menopause hits and pregnancy ends— have intersected to create more opportunities for sex and infection.


Sociocultural factors. Of course, older adults aren’t entirely to blame. Stereotypes, taboos, and biases about aging and sexuality perpetuate misconceptions surrounding late life sex, trickling down into clinical practice. For example, physician-initiated sexual history taking remains suboptimal among older adults, despite CDC recommendations requiring patients of all ages to receive comprehensive STI/STD education and evaluation. A powerful study revealed that few men (38%) and even fewer women (22%) had discussed sex with a physician since age 50, consistent with findings describing the inverse relationship of age and frequency of sexual health discussions. Other studies simply find that practitioners feel uncomfortable initiating sexual health discussions with older adults.  Prevailing interpretations of these findings conclude that practitioners’ attitudes and beliefs about sex in later life may stem from stereotypes of aging and sexuality, rather than experiences with, or explicit education about, late life sexuality.


Where do we begin? A call to action

Sex researchers and educators alike have long pointed to the positive contributions of sex education to healthy sexual attitudes and behavior, but adult-specific models remain breathtakingly scarce. Psychologists must therefore work to develop, implement, and evaluate adult sex education protocols for practitioners and older adults on:

  • Increasing knowledge about sexual health and functioning, as well as their changes, in later life;
  • Growing understanding of the biopsychosocial contributions to sexual risk in older adulthood; and
  • Promoting growth in physician and patient comfort to discuss sexual concerns


Recent precedent supports this as a good starting point: internal medicine residents who received three brief 30-minute tutorials on sexual history taking demonstrated improved documentation of older adults’ sexual histories than those who did not.


Steps you can take right now

We’ve got a long way to go before the paradigm shifts. Here’s what you can do to nudge it:

  1. Pause to assess, recognize, and reflect on your biases. What attitudes and beliefs do you have about late life sexuality? Where do they come from and how do they serve you? How and why should you challenge them?
  2. Practice the kind of sex you’d encourage your child or loved one to have. Sex that’s safe, consensual, and well lubricated.
  3. Have the knowledge and courage to ask questions. If you’re a health care provider working with older folks, ask about their sexual concerns; research says adults appreciate it. If you’re an older adult, share your sexual concerns with your health care provider—a competent professional will work with you or direct you to someone who can.
  4. Learn more. Explore the references included throughout this piece to get more (scientifically sound) information.
  5. Embrace sexuality as a lifelong, developmental process that improves with age. Isn’t that more fun, anyway?





Christina Pierpaoli Parker, MA, is a fourth-year graduate student in the Clinical Geropsychology doctoral program at the University of Alabama under the co-mentorship of Drs. Forrest Scogin and Martha R. Crowther. Her research and clinical work explore the intersection of older adults’ physical and psychological health, focusing on the adjustment to and behavioral management of chronic health conditions (e.g., HIV, metabolic syndrome, osteoarthritis). Current interests include developing psychoeducational interventions for understanding, treating, and improving sexual dysfunction in later life. Christina’s work has been published in the Journals of Aging & Health, Sex & Marital Therapy, and The Clinical Gerontologist and presented at international conferences. She translates her academic research for Eng(aging), her widely acclaimed blog on Psychology Today, which has landed her interviews as aging expert on The Psychology Podcast with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman and The Aging Literacy Podcast with Dr. Bill Thomas. Her forthcoming book, Trixxx Aren’t Just For Kids, written with Dr. Elizabeth DiNapoli, explores the science and stories of sex in later life.


Give the Gift of Kindness to Your Elders this Holiday Season


By Sheri R. Levy, PhD, MaryBeth Apriceno, Ashley Lytle, PhD , and Jamie L. Macdonald 


The holiday season has a way of encouraging acts of kindness toward family, friends, and even strangers. As the holiday spirit inspires us to treat others with kindness and respect, let us not overlook older adults who tend not to receive everyday acts of kindness, gratitude, and respect.

Ageism (negative attitudes, stereotypes, and behaviors toward older adults) is a significant social problem that impacts their health and well-being.

As the World Health Organization points out:

“Ageism is everywhere, yet it is the most socially ‘normalized’ of any prejudice, and is not widely challenged – like racism or sexism.”

Older adults face disrespectful, avoidant, and patronizing behavior as well as discrimination and even abuse in the workforce, health care, and housing. Challenging ageist stereotypes and treating older adults with respect and kindness can help confront the detrimental effects of ageism.


Some figures that should give us pause:

  • Nearly all depictions of older adults in publicly available Facebook groups (including more than 25,489 members) involved the use of negative ageist stereotypes5.
  • There were 20,857 age discrimination claims in employment in 2016 alone, accounting for 22.8% of all discrimination claims in employment2.
  • Ageism was the most frequently reported type of discrimination by a nationally representative sample of 6,000 American adults ages 50 and over when asked whether they experienced discrimination by doctors or hospitals11.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 6 older adults have experienced some form of elder abuse in the past year. This abuse includes neglect as well as physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse.


What you can do to reduce ageism:


1. Get the facts on aging:

2. Explore tips from the World Health Organization and the United Nations 

3. Steer clear of birthday cards that poke fun of older adults, which can lead to the internalization of negative age stereotypes, and further perpetuate myths about aging.


Celebrate older adults throughout the year:



If you would like to learn more about this topic, the following resources might be of interest to you:


1Abrams, D., Swift, H.J., and Drury, L. (2016). Old and unemployable? How age-based stereotypes affect willingness to hire job candidates. Journal of Social Issues, 72(1), 105-121. doi 10.1111/josi.12158

2Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (January, 2017). EEOC Releases Fiscal Year 2016 Enforcement and Litigation Data. Retrieved from: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/1-18-17a.cfm

3Erber, J.T., & Szuchman, L.T. (2015). Great myths of aging. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, MA

4Levy, B. R. (2009). Stereotype embodiment: A psychosocial approach to aging. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(6): 332-336.

5Levy, B.R., Chung, P.H., Bedford, T., & Navrazhina, K. (2014). Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes. The Gerontologist, 54(2), 172–176. doi:10.1093/geront/gns194

6Levy, S.R. (2016). Toward reducing ageism: PEACE (Positive Education about Aging and Contact Experiences) Model. The Gerontologist. 10 AUG 2016, doi: 10.1093/geront/gnw116

7Levy, S.R., & Macdonald, J.L. (2016). Progress on Understanding Ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 72(1), 5-25. doi: 10.1111/josi.12153

8Lytle, A., & Levy, S.R. (2017). Reducing Ageism: Education about Aging and Extended Contact with Older Adults. The Gerontologist. Article first published online: 19 NOV 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnx177

9Palmore, E. B., Branch, L., & Harris, D. K. (Eds. 2005). Encyclopedia of ageism. Binghamton, NY, US: Haworth Pastoral Press.

10Pillemer, K,, Burnes, D, Riffin, C., Lachs, M.S., (2016). Elder Abuse: Global Situation, Risk Factors, and Prevention Strategies, The Gerontologist, 56, 194–205. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnw004

11Rogers, S. E., Thrasher, A. D., Miao, Y., Boscardin, W. J., & Smith, A. K. (2015). Discrimination in healthcare settings is associated with disability in older adults: Health and retirement study, 2008–2012. Journal Of General Internal Medicine, 30(10), 1413-1420. doi:10.1007/s11606-015-3233-6

12United Nations (2014). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/ageing/

13World Health Organization (September, 2015). Ageing and Health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs404/en/

14World Health Organization (June, 2017). Elder abuse: Fact sheet. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs357/en/




Sheri R. Levy is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, USA. She earned her PhD at Columbia University in New York City, USA. Levy studies factors that cause and maintain prejudice, stigmatization, and negative intergroup relations and that can be harnessed to reduce bias, marginalization, and discrimination. Her research focuses on bias based on age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, and social class.  With Jamie L. Macdonald and Todd D. Nelson, Levy co-Edited a special issue of Journal of Social Issues on “Ageism: Health and Employment Contexts” (Levy, Macdonald, & Nelson, 2016). Levy was Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Social Issues from 2010-2013 and is a Fellow of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (Division 9 of American Psychological Association).


MaryBeth Apriceno is a graduate student at Stony Brook University. She received her BA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research investigates factors that affect ageist attitudes, aging anxiety, and self-stereotyping.


Jamie L. Macdonald is a doctoral candidate at Stony Brook University working with Sheri R. Levy. Jamie received her BA and MA in Psychology from Stony Brook University, New York, USA. Her research investigates prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination with a focus on ageism in different contexts, like the workplace. She was a Co-Editor, with Sheri R. Levy and Todd D. Nelson, on a special issue of Journal of Social Issues on “Ageism: Health and Employment Contexts” (Levy, Macdonald, & Nelson, 2016).


Ashley Lytle is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. Lytle earned her PhD at Stony Brook University, New York, USA.  Her research explores how prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping impact academic, social, and health outcomes among marginalized groups. Much of Lytle’s research has focused on better understanding prejudice toward older adults, sexual minorities, and women, with the ultimate goal of creating simple, yet effective, interventions to reduce prejudice.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Aging, Health and Wellness Tagged: age discrimination, ageism, discrimination, holiday season, prejudice

Accepting Help is Hard: Here’s Why There’s No Shame in Getting a Personal Care Assistant

Senior African American patient with female nurse

By Patricia Parmelee, PhD (Alabama Research Institute on Aging, The University of Alabama) & Alette Coble-Temple, PsyD (John F. Kennedy University)


Our society places the highest value on independence; doing things by ourselves for ourselves.  Because of this, we rarely think about what it would be like to need someone else’s assistance with even the most basic activities: getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating, driving, or filling out paperwork.  Thus, when individuals are faced with changes in their physical abilities, the adjustment to using personal care assistance can be challenging.


Adjusting to a disability or physical limitation is a complex process. Practitioners traditionally focus treatment on regaining physical functioning, rather than on how to successfully navigate receiving assistance and learning how to hire, train, supervise, and retain personal assistants. Additionally, most of the literature on professional caregiving focuses on the care providers. We want to spend some time addressing the other side. What is it like to be the recipient of personal care? And what can we do to make the process easier, less frustrating, and more efficient?


One of the most complicated aspects of being a personal care recipient is identifying what type of help you need and how you want that help to be delivered. People don’t think much about how personal care tasks are completed.  For example, everybody does not brush his or her teeth in the same way. Some people like heavy brushing, some people like light brushing; some like to start on the upper teeth, while others prefer the bottom.


Now you may be asking, “What is the big deal?” The big deal comes when a person who needs assistance simply states, “I need help brushing my teeth.” This can cause problems, because the person helping complete the task will naturally do it “their” way rather than asking how the care recipient would like the task to be completed. For the person receiving help, this may lead to frustration, resentment, and anger.


People receiving personal care assistance often feel they don’t have the right to request that a task be completed in a certain way. These individuals are often conditioned to be grateful for receiving help, period, rather than taught how to be a savvy consumer of assistance.  When individuals express their desire for care to be delivered in specific ways, they may be labeled by service providers as “difficult,”  “challenging,” or “resistant.”  Clinicians assisting people in navigating personal assistant services should emphasize identifying not just one’s needs, but also the way in which one wants the task to be completed. Utilizing personal care assessment screening tools is a useful strategy (See PCA screening assessment).


Once an individual has identified their specific needs and preferences, the next step is to develop a hiring process. Here, it is critical to determine what qualities and personality characteristics the care recipient values, to help in screening for the best fit. This is essential due to the personal nature of the position. Being a personal assistant requires intimate interactions within the care recipient’s personal space. Personality strongly affects the working relationship between recipient and care provider; being able to assess this dynamic early on can predict success in retention of personal assistance. Some individuals want a personal assistant who will dote on them, while other individuals find this style offensive and demeaning. Healthcare professionals can play an instrumental role in determining which characteristics are most valued for the recipients of personal care services.


For many reasons, personal care assistance has traditionally not been viewed as a professional role. First and foremost is the low pay. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly rate for personal care aides is $10.92: less than $23,000 annually. In many areas, this is not a living wage. Thus, it can be very difficult to attract competent, motivated employees. In-home support services are complicated systems to navigate for both recipient and employee. As a result, there is a real dearth in qualified applicants.


Even when one is successful at identifying and hiring personal assistants, the next challenge is retention of these qualified individuals. This is where healthcare professionals can play a beneficial role, by helping care recipients to develop structured evaluation methods, as well as processes to facilitate growth and development for the personal assistants. Structured evaluation rubrics can be useful tools in creating and maintaining a professional relationship based on transparent communication and clear expectations.


In sum, persons with disabilities face numerous challenges in finding, training, and retaining personal care assistants who can help them with daily needs. It’s important to understand that how care is provided is just as important as the care itself, and that the care provider–recipient relationship is a crucial one. Empowering persons with disabilities to treat the personal care relationship as a “real job” can help ensure satisfaction for both parties.




Patricia A. Parmelee, PhD, is Director of the Alabama Research Institute on Aging and Professor of Psychology at the University of Alabama. A social psychologist by training, she has been active in research and services for the elderly for more than 30 years, and is nationally known for her work on quality of life and quality of care for chronically ill older persons. Prior to joining the UA faculty in 2008, Dr. Parmelee held positions at the Emory University School of Medicine, the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Birmingham/Atlanta Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center. She previously served as Vice President for Outcomes Management at Genesis Health Ventures, a Pennsylvania-based provider of long-term care; as Associate Director of Research and Senior Research Psychologist at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center, and as Associate Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She is an elected Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Gerontological Society of America.

Alette Coble-Temple, PsyD, is a professor of clinical psychology at John F. Kennedy University. She is a noteworthy member of the disabled community as a fierce advocate for equal rights for individuals with disabilities. In addition, she is also a leader among women in the field of psychology. She currently sits as both a member of the American Psychological Association Committee on Women in Psychology, and as a member of the APA’s Leadership institute for Women in Psychology. She lives with cerebral palsy and much of her work has focused on disability rights. In 2015, she won the Ms. Wheelchair California pageant.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Aging, Disability Issues, Health and Wellness Tagged: aging, caregiving, disability, healthy aging, personal aide, personal care, personal care assistance, support services

Kickstart a Lifelong Healthy Habit this Summer! 4 Reasons Gardening Benefits Your Health as You Age

Group of people planting vegetable in greenhouse

By Layla Dang, Brianna Wenande, Bethany Westphal, and Jessica R. Petok (Department of Psychology, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN)


Gardening is a popular summer activity for a reason! Research shows that it can have positive effects on our physical, mental, and social well-being as we age. Gardening can range from caring for a single plant to mowing the lawn or planting an entire vegetable garden. Don’t be intimidated. Given the versatility of gardening options, anyone can do it. It’s not too late to dig into gardening this summer! Here are four reasons to kickstart this healthy habit:


1. Gardening is great for your physical health:

Gardening is an enjoyable way to keep active and physically healthy1,2. Gardeners report increased levels of physical activity through planting seeds, positioning plants, watering, or simply walking through the garden2. Such physical activity has the following benefits3:


  • Increased hand and body strength
  • Improved flexibility
  • Reduced bodily pain


Regular gardening can also reduce your risk of4:

  • Some cancers
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis


Beyond exercise-driven benefits, gardening can also improve nutrition, as well as sleeping and eating patterns. Planting a kitchen garden has nutritional benefits because it can encourage you to eat fruits and vegetables1. Spending time in an outdoor garden can help regulate your sleeping and eating patterns because sunlight controls your circadian rhythms4.


2. Gardening also benefits your mental and emotional wellbeing:

Gardening can keep you mentally active and alert, providing opportunities to cultivate new knowledge4. In addition to learning about new plants and gardening techniques, many gardeners enjoy the creativity of planning their gardens, which can include choosing what to plant or designing their garden’s layout4. Additionally, research shows that gardening and spending time in nature can even improve one’s attention span through exposure to a variety of sensory stimuli 5.


Among its emotional benefits, gardening can reduce depression and stress, and gardeners report feelings of anticipation, hope, and achievement4,5. If you are older, gardening can provide you with an opportunity to nurture and care for plants, giving you a sense of purpose and improving your self-esteem through a meaningful activity4. Many gardeners report simply gardening “for the love of it,” being attached to their gardens and finding them aesthetically pleasing4.



3. Gardening is an excellent way to improve your social life:

Gardening is a good strategy for expanding your social circle6. For instance, Participants in an organized horticultural program enjoyed sharing their gardening experiences and personal knowledge with others; it helped them form supportive relationships and become more socially active6. Additionally, gardeners have the opportunity to connect with others who share their passion through community gardens, gardening clubs, or social media groups4.


In addition to promoting social interaction and meaningful conversation with others, gardening can also increase your sense of companionship and combat loneliness. Many gardeners even form special bonds with their plants. For example, one participant in a gardening study reflected, “I say hello and talk to my plants everyday . . . It seems that the little plants can understand what I say to them . . . They respond to my encouragement and make me feel that I am not alone”6.


4. You can adapt your gardening habits as you age:

It is important to create optimistic goals as you age, and in order to promote optimum physical and emotional health, you should choose a gardening activity appropriate for your physical capabilities. You can continue your passion for gardening as you age, because luckily, gardening is easily adapted to meet changing needs. You can vary the duration and intensity of your gardening activities; ergonomic tools and low-maintenance plants such as succulents help make gardening more comfortable and achievable. Even just being in nature is cognitively and emotionally beneficial for you7,8.


Overall, gardening is a fulfilling, holistic way to improve your well-being as you get older. Even if you’ve never tended to plants before, gardening is within reach at any age. So, pot a plant today, and maybe it will blossom into a lifelong passion for gardening you never thought you had!


If you’re a gardener:

  • What is your favorite thing about gardening?
  • What do you like to grow in your garden?
  • Do you have any tips and tricks for new gardeners?


Let us know in the comments below! If you would like to learn more about the benefits of gardening, this information may be of interest to you:


1Wang, D., & MacMillan, T. (2013). The benefits of gardening for older adults: A systematic review of the literature. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 37, 153-181. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01924788.2013.784942

2Tse, M. M. Y. (2010). Therapeutic effects of an indoor gardening programme for older people living in nursing homes. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, 949-958. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.02803.x

3Park, S., & Shoemaker, C. A. (2009). Observing body position of older adults while gardening for health benefits and risks. Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 33, 31-38. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01924780902718582

4Scott, T. L., Masser, B. M., & Pachana, N. A. (2015). Exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening for older adults. Ageing and Society, 35, 2176-2200. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X14000865

5Detweiler, M. B., Sharma, T., Detweiler, J. G., Murphy, P. F., Lane, S., Carman, J., . . . Kim, K. Y. (2012). What is the evidence to support the use of therapeutic gardens for the elderly? Psychiatry Investigation, 9, 100-110. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4306/pi.2012.9.2.100

6Chen, Y. & Ji, J. (2014). Effects of horticultural therapy on psychosocial health in older nursing home residents: A preliminary study. The Journal of Nursing Research : JNR., 23, 167-171. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/jnr.0000000000000063

7Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-421. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.6143402

8Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02225.x




Layla Dang is a senior at St. Olaf College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with concentrations in Management Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is currently doing research focused on healthy age-related changes in various types of learning and memory, in the Petok Aging Lab. In the future, she hopes to pursue graduate studies in industrial/organizational psychology.

Brianna Wenande is a senior undergraduate student at St. Olaf College, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Statistics. She is currently doing research in the Petok Aging Lab on how healthy aging and genetics influence learning and memory, and in the future, she hopes to pursue a career in child clinical psychology or pediatrics.

Beth Westphal is a junior at St. Olaf College, and she is studying Chemistry and Neuroscience. She is currently researching healthy aging, learning, and genetics alongside Brianna and Layla. Although undecided about her future career goals, she plans to spend time this summer working in her mother’s garden.

Jessica Petok, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at St. Olaf College. Her research is aimed at understanding the cognitive and neural mechanisms of learning, memory and decision-making in healthy adults of all ages. Her current work examines how genetic polymorphisms contribute to variability in learning and memory across the adult lifespan. She received her BA in Psychology from Skidmore College and her PhD in Lifespan Cognitive Neuroscience from Georgetown University.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com



Filed under: Aging, Health and Wellness Tagged: emotional health, gardening, healthy aging, mental health, physical activity, physical health

Are You Talking to Parents About Keeping Guns Away from Children? 5 Reasons You Absolutely Should

A small child staring at a hand gun within reach on a table

By Clinton W. Anderson, PhD (Interim Executive Director, Public Interest Directorate, American Psychological Association)

Psychologists are recognized as having important knowledge about psychological health and development. That is why parents routinely seek our advice on a wide range of issues affecting their children’s well-being. However, protecting children from gun violence is a rarely broached topic. June 21 is National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day. Launched in 2000 by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ASK campaign reminds health professionals, parents, and caregivers of the importance of asking if there are unlocked guns in the homes where children live and play.


Once this question is asked, a frank discussion about protecting children from the dangers of gun violence can begin. Although the conversation may be awkward, having it could potentially save their child’s life. And yes, psychologists and other health professionals are well within their rights to do so. A federal appeals court in Florida recently ruled that state laws prohibiting doctor-patient discussions of guns violated the First Amendment. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors and nurses address firearm safety as part of their routine guidance with patients and parents.  As psychologists, we have extensive education and training that equip us to understand and communicate the dangers of guns in the home. Regardless of our areas of expertise or professional setting, we have a vital role to play.

Here’s why:

1. Firearm safety is a public health issue:

Gun violence has leached into every aspect of our American way of life. It occurs in every setting whether Americans are at work, at play, at worship, at school, or at home. Our efforts to prevent gun violence need to be informed by the best evidence.

2. Children often have far too easy access to guns:

Parents should be aware that guns are like Christmas presents – kids will find them no matter how well hidden they are. Many parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids’ behavior toward guns. High-quality research shows that training kids to stay away from or not handle guns does not work. We must communicate to parents that the best preventive measure against gun injury or death among children is removing guns from the household entirely.

3. Developmental factors contribute to risk of gun violence for children:

Many parents are unaware of the developmental factors that make keeping firearms in the home risky for children. For instance, they underestimate the inquisitiveness of young children who are primed to explore and test boundaries. Many don’t even realize that 2- or 3-year-olds possess the strength to pull a gun’s trigger. Similarly, during the teen years, traits like impulsivity, a sense of invulnerability, and temporary but intense feelings of despondency contribute to risk of firearm use. Some experts counsel that it is best not to have guns at all in a home with teenagers. Psychologists and other health professionals can help parents understand these risk factors.

4. Children with behavioral problems are at greater risk:

Parents with children showing behavioral health problems should consider that these problems may elevate risk of harm when there are accessible firearms in the home.  If they have children or teens with mood disorders, substance abuse (including alcohol), or a history of suicide attempts, encourage them to remove or restrict access to firearms. Arrange for the adult to talk to a psychologist or pediatrician if questions persist.

5. If guns are in the home, they should be treated like all other household dangers:

We routinely tell parents to take precautions to make their homes as safe as possible for their children. We tell them to keep household cleaners, prescription medicines, and even alcohol and cigarettes out of their children’s reach. Households and families with firearms should treat guns the same way.

  • Encourage parents to store all firearms at another location – alternate storage options include:
    • at another licensed gun owner’s home
    • in a secure storage unit
    • in a bonded warehouse for gun storage
  • If adults insist on keeping firearms in the home, emphasize that it is critical to store guns unloaded, in a securely locked location, and with ammunition stored in a separate locked container. One caveat: although locked storage provides some protection, parents should know that it may not prove effective against children’s creativity, curiosity, and persistence.
  • If their child will be spending time in another family’s home, advise parents to ASK whether there are guns in the home, and if so, how they are stored before sending their child over to play.

We all have a responsibility to reduce the risk of gun violence in America, particularly for our youngest citizens. It starts with you:



I would like to thank Susan Sorenson, PhD, (Director, Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence), and W. Rodney Hammond, PhD, (retired Director of the Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control) for sharing their input and expertise for this blog post.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Children and Youth, Health and Wellness, Violence Tagged: accidental death, ASK day, children's health, children's mental health, firearm safety, firearm violence, gun safety, gun violence, gun violence prevention, homicide, parenting, parenting tips, public health, suicide

4 Reasons to Add Dancing to Your Valentine’s Day Plans

Romantic Mature Urban Couple


By Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, PhD


Whether your Valentine’s Day plans include a romantic partner, dear friends, or a solo activity, why not trip the light fantastic? In other words: make like Fred and Ginger and go dancing!


Dancing, research increasingly shows, is good for both your physical and your psychological health.


1. In terms of physical health, dancing is good exercise.

One scholarly review found that dancing improved a range of physical strengths and abilities, including cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and flexibility, and balance. Balance, in particular, is important for maintaining health and independence in older adults, since improved balance reduces a risk of falls. Research has found that while falls are common among older adults, they can be devastating and the risk of mortality increases drastically after a serious fall.


2. Dancing may even improve physical strength and balance among older adults with Parkinson’s disease-related balance issues.

One research study found improved balance, walking distance, and backward stride among participants in a 13-week dance class. Both tango and foxtrot participants improved compared to a control group who took no dance classes, and tango participants improved the most. The researchers proposed that the rhythm of dancing activated brain areas necessary to improve balance and functioning.


3. Dancing is also great for your mind and psychological health.

One longitudinal study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that dancing was associated with a lower risk of dementia. A 12-week dance intervention found that dance participation reduced the experience of bodily pain. Other research with older adults in care homes and facilities has found that a variety of dance interventions (line dancing, social dancing, and aerobic dancing) all improve wellbeing and enjoyment by the individuals in the home. And a study with older adults with depression found that dance lessons improved self-efficacy and reduced hopelessness.


4. Dance melds health and fun in one.

When you put on your dancing shoes and hit the floor, you get physical exercise, maintain your memory, improve your mental health, and have fun in the process. Plus, there is the magic of dressing up, remembering the dances of your youth, and enjoying the beat of the music. Can you think of a better way to spend an afternoon or evening?


Ready to go dancing?


In your local area, check the calendars and schedules of these organizations, which often host regular dances.

At most dance venues, a free introductory lesson is usually included at the start of the evening. Dances are often hosted on a regular basis at: Community Centers, Senior Citizen Centers, VFW halls, and American Legion halls. Many college extension programs and community continuing education program host dance classes as part of their courses. Dance studios often have introductory packages to get you started at a low cost, and once you meet dancers in your area, you’ll learn of other opportunities in the area.


Ballroom dance:

USA Dance has chapters throughout the US. Most chapters host regular social dances at a minimal fee, and include an introductory dance lesson before the start of each social dance. You can make friends with local dancers and have a fun evening on the town. Find your local chapter here.Click here


Line dancing:

Line dancing instructor Bill Bader offers a list of line dancing venues by country and state. Click here to look in your area. The United Country Western Dance Council promotes both line dancing and country partner dancing around the US and the world, through dance festivals and competitions. Local events in your area will include lessons and opportunities to dance. Click here to learn more about UCWDC.


Aerobic dance:

Zumba (a Latin-based dance exercise program) and Jazzercise both offer the benefits of dance in group exercise format. Many gyms, fitness centers, community centers, and YMCAs offer Zumba and Jazzercise classes, and classes are often included in your membership. You can also look for Zumba dance classes by clicking here (on the main page, click on “Find a Class). For Jazzercise, click here to find a class in your area.



Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, PhD, is the Division 47 (Sport and Exercise Psychology) liaison to APA’s Committee on Aging. As an exercise scientist, Dr. Bonura focuses on promoting health and wellness through fun activities and self-care. Dr. Bonura has been an amateur ballroom dancer for more than two decades, and plans to keep her balance and maintain her memory by twinkling her toes. Learn more about her work at www.drkimberleebonura.com or contact her directly at [email protected].

Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Health and Wellness Tagged: dancing, emotional health, exercise, health, mental health, older adults, physical activity

5 Ways to Become Better Involved In Medical Decisions as You Age

senior asian woman talking to family doctor

By Rebecca Delaney, MS (Doctoral Student in Development Psychology, West Virginia University)


Throughout our lives we face a range of medical decisions that can affect ourselves and others. Should I undergo a medical or surgical procedure? Should I encourage a loved one to get a medical screening or diagnostic test? What medication would be best to take when managing a chronic illness?

How people approach such medical decisions differs. Often, the responsibility for the medical decision is placed on the physician given their medical expertise. However, some patients prefer to be more involved in the decision process (Brom et al., 2014).

Facilitating physician and patient engagement in a shared, or collaborative, decision-making process is gaining more attention within healthcare. Using shared decision-making strategies gives physicians more opportunity to provide patients with the necessary medical information to make informed choices.

Patients can also discuss their own opinions and preferences to ensure that their medical choices align with their values. Through this approach, patients can better understand the potential harms and benefits of medical options and feel informed about their decisions (O’Connor et al., 2003).


Here are 5 ways to become better involved in the medical decision-making process:


1. Ask questions!

  • If you have difficulty understanding the medical information provided to you, be sure to ask your medical provider additional questions to gain clarity.
  • Ask specific questions about the benefits and harms regarding your healthcare options (e.g., types of treatment, medication).


2. Seek advice from others

  • Seeking advice and help from others can be beneficial for your long-term health (Delaney, Strough, & Turiano, 2016).
  • Speaking to others who have the same chronic illness or have gone through a surgical procedure you are considering, for example, can help you evaluate the pros and cons to medical choices you need to make.


3. Be vocal about your preferences and experiences

  • Make sure your medical preferences and values are known to the physician.
  • Provide your physician with as much information as possible about your pain, feelings, and context of everyday life. This can lead to different medical choices based on your answers.


4. Ask for decision aids

  • An increasing number of decision aids are being developed to help patients learn more about their health condition. Decision aids are used to facilitate conversations with their physician to decide which health care choice best fits the patients’ values and preferences.
  • These have been shown to improve quality of health care, increase patient knowledge of benefits and harms of health care choices, and increase patient satisfaction (Shafir & Rosenthal, 2012).


5. Create a medical support network

  • You can make your medical preferences clear to those close to you and have them be there to support you in your health care choices.
  • This can be informal, such as bringing someone with you to be a second ear in case you missed what the physician said. Or more formal, such as having your caregiver or an assigned health care proxy involved with your medical decisions.



For more on this topic, check out this resource from the National Institute on Aging:



Rebecca Delaney is in the life-span developmental psychology doctoral program at West Virginia University, with plans to graduate in May of 2017. Rebecca plans to continue with research and work with older adults in the community postgraduation. Her research seeks to identify factors that can serve to inform intervention development to aid aging men and women with making advantageous health decisions and enhancing physician-patient relationships when considering important healthcare decisions.



Brom, L., Hopmans, W., Pasman, H. R. W., Timmermans, D. R., Widdershoven, G. A., & Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B. D. (2014). Congruence between patients’ preferred and perceived participation in medical decision-making: a review of the literature. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 14(25), 1-16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6947-14-25

Delaney, R., Turiano, N., & Strough, J. (2016). Living longer with help from others: Seeking advice lowers mortality risk. Journal of Health Psychology. doi: 10.1177/1359105316664133

O’Connor, A. M., Stacey, D., Entwistle, V., Llewellyn-Thomas, H., Rovner, D., Holmes-Rovner, M., Tait, V., … Jones J. (2003). Decision aids for people facing health treatment or screening decisions. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 1, 1-106. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001431

Shafir, A., & Rosenthal, J. (2012). Shared decision making: advancing patient-centered care         through state and federal implementation. Washington, DC: National Academy for State            Health Policy.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Aging, Health and Wellness Tagged: aging, health care, healthcare, healthcare decision making, healthy aging, medical decision making, older adults

How Mindfulness Can Lower Your Stress and Anxiety in 2017

Sharing their spirituality

By Tiffany Chiu (APA Minority Fellowship Program Office Intern and Undergraduate Student at University of California, Irvine)

It’s a new year and we know that 2016 was a stressful year for many of us. Thinking of a way to manage your stress and anxiety in the year ahead? Practicing mindfulness may be the answer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 about 9 percent of Americans reported feelings of hopelessness or despondency associated with depression (CDC, 2010). How can we overcome such negative emotions? Prescription medications help many to alleviate depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. However, practicing mindfulness and relaxation exercises (e.g., meditation, yoga), may be equally as effective, if not more so, to alleviate stress and anxiety.

In a psychology study, cancer patients reported lower ratings of pain intensity and attributed pain relief and emotional positivity to praying and framing positive thoughts (Dezutter, Wachholtz, & Corvelyn, 2016). This study shows that we can all use mindfulness to build a therapeutic outcome in stressful situations.


There are three subjective themes to Mindful Meditation and Centering Prayer:

  1. Community: Participating in prayer groups can be an opportune time to show vulnerability without the fear of judgment. Having a safe forum allows us to build close friendships and share a sense of connectedness and purpose (Jones, Bodie, & Hughes, 2016).
  2. Peace: Practicing mindful meditation can also lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone (Turakitwanakan, Mekseepralard, & Busarakumtragul, 2013). Practicing mindfulness can give us strong clarity in our thoughts and peace during stressful and uncertain times.
  3. Moral Purpose: Mindful meditation and prayer can allow you to connect with your moral compass. Having a confirmation of your purpose and identity may lessen anxiety and stress in your daily life (Fear, Kenney, Loucks, McPherson, & VanOverbeke, 2005).

As a college student who struggles with anxiety, I became interested in practicing mindfulness after experiencing stigma for seeking professional help from within my community. The discrimination I experienced further fueled my passion for public awareness as a means for reducing the stigma of mental illness. To learn more about mindfulness, I conducted an independent research project on the effects of prayer practices on college students by interviewing and learning about students’ experiences with stress management.

Throughout my research, I discovered the prominent roles that mindfulness may play on the mental health of young adults. I am also interested in pursuing research that demonstrates how mindfulness may be implemented in wellness programs at institutions, such as federal prisons and schools. I would love to learn more about:

  • How we can use mindfulness to lower recidivism rates and increase social support in federal prisons.
  • How we can utilize mindfulness to make learning more effective for so many students in schools.

I hope that I can contribute to the answers of these questions as a researcher and school psychologist in the future.

More than adding to my professional capacity in research, mindfulness has improved my personal self-care. Practicing mindfulness in my everyday life has allowed me to create a balance between spending time with myself and connecting with others. Whether it’s praying in solitude or practicing yoga, these practices regulate my emotions and avoid burnout.


Here are 3 ways to implement mindfulness and relaxation exercises in your daily life

1. Mindfulness:


Find quiet time to sink into deep thought about the blessings in your life. Remind yourself of the people and things that you are most grateful for. Positively framing your thoughts can remove distractions of distressed thoughts and focus your mind on positive emotions.

2. Yoga:


This relaxing exercise allows you to practice your deep breathing techniques and simultaneously find clarity in your thoughts and emotions. By aligning and disciplining your mind to focus, you may also engage in reflective learning.

3. Reflective Journaling:


Writing in a journal is not only a way to document your thoughts, feelings, and values, but it allows you to know more about yourself by critically thinking, evaluating, and making sense of the events in your life.


Other Resources: 

Check out this handy infographic for how to do a 5-minute mini meditation:


Or watch this TED Talk video by psychologist, Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat, on how mindfulness meditation can redefine pain, happiness and satisfaction.


Overall, practicing mindfulness is positive for your emotional and physical health!

How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life? Please share your experiences in the comments!



Chiu, T. (2016). Prayer and biblical meditation for college students. (In Progress).

Dezutter, J., Wachholtz, A., & Corveleyn, J. (2011). Prayer and pain: The mediating role of positive re-appraisal. Journal of Behavioral Science, 6, 542-549. doi:10.1007/s10865-011-9348-2

Fear, F., Kenney, P., Loucks, R., McPherson, K. & VanOverbeke, J. (2005) Mindfulness and moral purpose: Exploring connections. Journal of College and Character, 6, 1-9.

Jones, S., Bodie, G., &Hughes, S. (2016). The impact of mindfulness on empathy, active listening, and perceived provisions of emotional support. Communication Research, 3, 1-14.

Turakitwanakan, W., Mekseepralard, C. & Busarakumtragul, P. (2013). Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 3, 222-249.



Tiffany Chiu is currently a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently participating in the UCDC Internship Program, with placement in the APA Minority Fellowship Program Office. She is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in School Psychology and ultimately becoming a School Psychologist. If you have any questions regarding her research interests, please contact her at [email protected].

Image sources: #1 (iStockPhoto.com), #2, #3, #4 (Flickr via Creative Commons) and #5 (GuardYourHealth.com)  


Filed under: Health and Wellness, Stress and Health Tagged: anxiety, depression, meditation, mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, mindfulness strategy, prayer, stress, yoga

Caregivers Need Care Too: 3 Steps to Self-Care


By Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, PhD

If you are responsible for the wellbeing of others – whether you’re a parent of a child with special needs, or caring for an aging parent, spouse or other loved one – you know that caring for someone else is hard work. Approximately 44 million Americans are caregivers, and the average caregiver devotes more than 20 unpaid hours per week to supporting the health and wellbeing of their loved one. That is on top of their other duties and obligations, including full time jobs in many cases.

The work of caregiving can take a toll on your sleep and your health. Research indicates that more than two-thirds of caregivers experience disturbed sleep. Other research indicates that caregivers have three times the rate of depression than matched non-caregivers, which may be related to chronic impaired sleep. More than half of caregivers experience declines in health while providing care. Caregivers may feel that they are burning the candle at both ends, and at two places in the middle, and never have a chance to rest.

Caregiving is meaningful and caregivers value making sure that their loved ones have a higher quality of life. Even though caregiving is tough, it is also emotionally gratifying and rewarding, and it can yield positive benefits. In a 6-year study at John Hopkins University of 3,500 caregiving spouses, adult children, and relatives, researchers found that caregivers had an 18% reduced rate of death compared to non-caregivers. Perhaps caregiving, although challenging, provides an innate sense of meaning and purpose that promotes you taking care of yourself, so that you can keep on taking care of your loved ones.

There are clearly benefits to being there for a loved one, and you experience that love, joy, and gratitude every day. As you reflect on caregiving during National Family Caregiver Month, allow yourself space to support your own health and wellbeing, and find ways to care for yourself.

If you are a caregiver, self-care is critical to maintaining your energy and your quality of life. Here are 3 steps to self-care for caregivers.


1. Learn the benefits of mindfulness

At its simplest, mindfulness means being aware of your mind – being aware of what goes on in your thoughts. There is a great deal that goes on within our heads, and often the drama in our heads is based on regrets of the past, expectations that weren’t met in the present, and our fears or hopes for the future. Mindfulness is intended to help us become aware of all those streams of thought. This is a powerful opportunity for insight, because in the present moment, we can better manage our stress. That’s why being mindful is such a useful tool for stress management.


2. Get mindfulness training

Mindfulness training can be a big help. First, mindfulness training helps build your resources to survive challenging times. Second, mindfulness training helps you pay attention and notice and enjoy the good times with your loved ones. Third, mindfulness training offers you a consistent way to recharge, restore, and recover. Research at Northwestern University found that when caregivers participated in mindfulness training, they had lower levels of depression, improved sleep, and an overall improved quality of life. In the study, the care-recipients (individuals with early stage dementia) also participated in mindfulness training, and experienced similar benefits.


3. Try Chair Yoga as a great mindfulness strategy

Chair Yoga is a simple, accessible way to bring gentle mindful exercise into your life. It’s an adapted form of yoga that anyone can do, no special equipment required. Chair Yoga can be totally seated, making it accessible for individuals with mobility limitations. It can also include standing poses with the support of the chair. Try Chair Yoga to manage your own stress and boost your health and well-being or try it with your loved one, as a shared strategy for stress management and wellness promotion.

To find a class in your local area, look for Chair Yoga classes at fitness centers, community centers, and health and wellness facilities.

Try these gentle and fully seated Chair Yoga exercises at home or at work or with your loved one.

  • Chair Meditation:
    • Sit quietly on a comfortable chair.
    • Roll your shoulders down and back to engage the muscles of the back and open your chest.
    • Rest your palms in your lap, palms facing up.
    • Close your eyes, and focus on slow, deliberate breathing.
    • As you inhale, say “Inhale.” As you exhale, say “Exhale.”
    • Breathe deliberately for 2 to 5 minutes.


  • Chair Twists:
    • From your seated position, gently twist at the waist toward the right, bringing your right hand back to the side of the chair and your left hand to the outside of your right leg.
    • Keep your neck soft with a gentle stretch.
    • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
    • Repeat on the other side.


  • Chair Leg Lifts:
    • From your seated position, lift the right leg forward as high as possible, engaging the thigh muscles.
    • Hold for 5–10 deep breaths to cultivate mental and physical endurance.
    • Repeat on the left side.

Overall, remember that being a caregiver is an honor, because your loved one has trusted you with their health and safety. But also, remember to honor yourself for the hard work you do. You already take good care of your loved ones – remember to take good care of yourself, too.


Learn more about National Family Caregivers Month, and review resources to support you as a caregiver, from these organizations:

American Psychological Association

National Alliance for Caregiving

Caregiver Action Network

American Society on Aging

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Paralyzed Veterans of America

Samueli Institute: Resources for Military Caregivers



Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura is the Division 47 (Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology) representative to APA’s Committee on Aging (CONA). Dr. Bonura is a fitness and wellness educator; her work focuses on the benefits of gentle exercise and self-care for health and wellness promotion. She is a contributing faculty member in the Walden University College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a Professor for The Great Courses. Learn more at http://www.drkimberleebonura.com/ and http://www.chairyoga.com/ and contact Dr. Bonura at [email protected].


Image source: Flickr user pslee999 via Creative Commons

Filed under: Health and Wellness Tagged: caregiving, chair yoga, mindfulness, mindfulness strategy, National Family Caregiver Month, self-care, sleep, wellness