Tag Archives: healthy aging

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.

What High School Psychology Students Told Us About the Future of Healthy Aging


By Maggie Syme, PhD, MPH (Member, APA Committee on Aging & Assistant Professor of Gerontology, Kansas State University)


In the past year, high school psychology students embarked upon an essay to describe an “Aging World,” the theme of this year’s Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS) annual essay competition for high school psychology students. Ultimately, four students from high schools around the world were named winners, but the broader impact was that a bevy of young people learned about how to age well and how to support this goal for our current aging population. The potential contribution of younger to older generations is enormous, and it has been truly inspiring to see the passion and ingenuity with which these high school students approach an aging world.

It was so inspiring that the APA Committee on Aging, which provided input to this year’s TOPPS competition, interviewed the essay winners. The winners provided insight into their experience and the implications for the psychology of aging.

Three thousand words on aging—this is no easy task. Just ask our winners. Each winning student (see below for names and affiliations) commented on the magnitude of the project, and some reflected on how their peers shied away from the task. Yet, each one appreciated the challenge and found clear benefits to participating.


Poorvi Dua, now at University of California – Berkeley, indicated that the size did not intimidate her, but instead the challenge was intriguing.

“The second [my teacher] mentioned it I got really excited, and knew if I put work into this it would be the coolest thing.”


Wendi Ji, a senior at Shen Zhen College of International Education, also saw the importance of the topic:

“I usually don’t want to participate in essay contests…but the topic really grabbed my attention.”


Grace Rhine, now a freshman at Millersville University, stated that the challenge was part of her motivation for doing the essay:

“I really wanted to prepare myself for the writings in college that I would do…It was really helpful for me.”


Similarly, Sophia Song, a senior at Seoul International School, indicated that the contest was a “golden opportunity” and further stated,

“I learned a lot about how to format a research paper, which will help me a lot later on.”


The winners were especially thankful for their high school psychology teachers in providing the opportunity. Several mentioned their teachers as an integral source of support in the process, and were appreciative of the formatting guidance, as this was the first APA research paper most had written. When asked about other sources of inspiration and guidance, several mentioned their grandparents or other key figures in their lives who had illustrated the importance of healthy aging.

“I thought often about them [grandparents] in my essay, and I asked them a lot about the concepts I explored to see if it was applicable to them.” Grace also pointed to the influence of her grandparents stating, “I’m really close with all my grandparents, and I thought about how their life will be in the future as they age and want them to have a good life.”


Wendi spoke about her grandparents as “fighters,” stating,

“They had to fight off against all the negative images they had seen in the media and stereotyping comments about them. [A family member] used the ‘Because you are old…’ a lot. But the truth is, my grandparents never listen when the sentence starts with those words.”


In contrast, Poorvi mentioned that she was highly influenced by her English teacher (and mentor), whose wife developed Alzheimer’s disease during Poorvi’s high school career.

“I saw the process he was going through and the mental toll it took on him. And, just how big it became…That really inspired me to write this essay, to see how we can improve the aging process.”


In fact, Poorvi is now studying molecular biology and psychology in college with hopes to go to medical school and do research on neurobiology, the brain, and Alzheimer’s. She reported that she has joined a local club at UC-Berkeley, Action for Alzheimer’s, and will be volunteering in a care center as part of the club activities.


The other winners also mentioned an intention to “follow up” on aging in some way. Grace, who is studying to be an art therapist, wants to be able to help people across the lifespan through her work. Sophia aims to take a few aging-related courses in psychology when she goes to college. Wendi also indicated her intent for continuing to study aging.

“After researching the aging topic, I find it very hard to just forget about it and go on studying other subjects, just because aging is such an important issue. I want to dedicate myself to helping elderly citizens fight off the negative mass media images and stereotypes.”


When talking about the aging-specific aspects of the essay, each winner felt they grasped key points about healthy aging as a result.

For example, Poorvi was captivated by the life course perspective and the real-life impact of psychological and social concepts on biological aging.

“One thing that really surprised me was how much of your early life can play a role in the process of aging. I knew you should exercise and eat healthy, but these studies actually show a direct correlation between things like stress and the length of telomeres in your DNA.”


Grace commented,

“I never really thought about it [aging] before, more than just the biological standpoint. Here, I thought about the different experiences people have in retirement, moving into a nursing home, and the impact on that person.”


Sophia also commented on broadening her understanding of aging.

“One thing that stood out to me was subjective happiness. We can help older adults have this through gaining independence, autonomy, and from the simplest things like having transportation.”


Wendi focused on the psychological impact on healthy aging, stating,

“The overall take-away message was most of the time people had choices, they had choices to lead a healthy and positive life in their 60s and 70s. But the choices originate from their psychology, their attitude and ways of interpreting life events. If we can help them realize the choices and encourage them to make the ones beneficial to their physical and mental health, the word ‘aging’ may finally be free of associated negative emotions fear and worry.”


The winners were asked to consider why people their age (or younger) should be interested in aging. What’s the need, if it is decades away?

“It’s going to happen to all of us, sooner or later,” stated Grace.


Similarly, Poorvi asserted,

“Every single day, every single second that you are alive, you are aging. You have to be conscious of the choices you are making now because they will play a role down the line. Very small things you wouldn’t think play a role, the effects are amplified as you go along.”


Sophia agreed, stating,

“Aging research is an investment for us as we grow up. It’s crucial to understand where we will be in a few decades.”


Wendi emphasized that our actions as younger people make an impact on today’s older adults.

“Young people’s attitude and actions towards elderly citizens impose a significant influence upon the expectations and attitudes of elderly people towards aging.” She further stated that, “as responsible citizens, young people should care and help improve the welfare of this very important group who have contributed so much to our society.”


Each winner also specified what people in younger generations could (and should) be doing to get involved with aging issues. All of them suggested methods on a larger scale (e.g., volunteering, getting involved in research), but they also mentioned person-level interventions.

“The easiest way is to get a more personal connection with your grandparents, and ask them about aging in general and how each of these things apply to them,” suggested Sophia.


The “gap” between older and younger generations was mentioned by Poorvi, stating,

“There’s very young people, and there’s the very old and it feels marginalized. It is a good idea to get them more involved, and there are studies about this. It is better for people in older care homes if they’re surrounded by young/lively people; it boosts their psychological health.”


Grace also emphasized the role of personal, intergenerational connections by stating,

“Getting younger people involved in different community programs can integrate the different generations. I’m really involved in my church, and there is a large older population there. I like to get to know them and spend time with them.”


Wendi adds,

“They can start by not stereotyping the elderly as ‘lonely, grumpy, and socially withdrawn,’ and hopefully convince others to do the same.” She also suggested the importance of family support for our older relatives. “Consider spending more family time with elderly members in the family. They have the most wisdom and life experience, not to mention the importance of family support for elderly people.”


Overall, the essay impacted each of these students in unique ways. Some gained much-needed college preparation, and gained self-efficacy after tackling that ever-challenging APA formatting. Some solidified a previous interest into a potential career pathway. But each one came away with a more profound understanding of healthy aging and the immediate impacts on society. This is summed up in the following from Poorvi:

“Writing this essay made me realize how important this field of study is…All the research in this field is incredibly important because every study is going to be the scientific background for which more programs and laws are created that are geared toward helping older people. It’s underappreciated, but it’s incredibly important in our society because it is so fundamental.”


The four winning essays are available to download and read here: http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/topss/student-competition.aspx. We encourage you to take a look at how these high schools students have captured the challenges and solutions to aging well in our current world.


Of note, TOPSS provides students with a writing contest opportunity annually. See this link for guidelines and previous award winners. They also have an award for high school psychology teachers that have innovative lesson plans in psychology. See http://www.apa.org/about/awards/teaching-excellence.aspx for more information and how to nominate your teacher and/or colleague for this award.


2017 Essay Winners

Poorvi Dua (Xavier College Preparatory; Phoenix, AZ)

Grace Rhine (Penn Manor High School; Millersville, PA)

Sophia Song (Seoul International School; Seoul, South Korea)

Wendi Ji (Shen Zhen College of International Education, Guandong, China)



Maggie Syme, PhD, is an assistant professor in gerontology in the Center on Aging and serves as a faculty member in the School of Family Studies and Human Ecology at Kansas State University. Her background is in counseling psychology and public health, with a doctoral degree from the University of Kansas and MPH from San Diego State University. Her clinical postdoctoral training was concentrated in geropsychology and neuropsychology as well as a research postdoc in cancer health disparities and aging. Prior to coming to K-State, Dr. Syme was a Research Assistant Professor at San Diego State University working on grant-funded research from the Alzheimer’s Association on sexual decision-making among cognitively compromised older adults. Her research interests are centered on sexual health in later life and across the lifespan, sexual decision-making in long-term care residents, and person-centered long-term care.


Filed under: Aging Tagged: healthy aging, high school psychology, TOPSS essay contest

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

How Do We Blunt the Impact of Ageist Stereotypes?

Senior woman make-up face on white background

By Jeff McCarthy, MA (University of Windsor) & Anne Baird, PhD (University of Windsor)

In Western societies, negative stereotypes about being an older person predominate. However, these patterns vary across groups and across times. Typically, researchers study ways to diminish the negative impact of stereotypes on two groups:

  • younger adults, to whom these negative stereotypes are not applied by others or themselves4
  • older adults, to whom these negative stereotypes likely are applied both by others and themselves.

Reducing the impact of these stereotypes on older people themselves has been the subject of some interesting recent studies.


When we look at the way older people are shown in and participate in traditional and social media, we see both progress and continued shortcomings. On the one hand, a study of Super Bowl commercials from 2010 to 2014 suggested more appearances of older characters than in earlier traditional media1. Moreover, the portrayal of these characters overall was more positive than in the past.


On the other hand, the use of social media by older people and the description of them in these media are far from optimal. Social media are potential avenues for older people to address ageism directly and advocate for themselves, but inaccessibility of design, failure to appreciate the value of social media, and worries about privacy keep some older people from pursuing these avenues9.


A review of over 80 public Facebook groups related to aging uncovered overwhelmingly unfavorable comments about older people in all but one5. In addition to the lack of participation by older people, Levy and colleagues5 give several reasons for this harsh negative bias. These reasons include:

  • the fact that creators of these sites were younger rather than older people
  • the known tendency for stereotypes of all kinds to become more negative as an individual’s contact with social media increases5.

The lack of participation by older people and the prominence of negative aging stereotypes on social media work to accentuate unfavorable views about aging9.


So, how do we deal with this?


Most people would be tempted to shine a light on these negative stereotypes. By bringing them to attention, we can reduce them, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be that easy. Ironically, while some interventions with explicit focus on the stereotypes may help (e.g., imagined intergroup contact10), there is growing evidence that this approach can backfire.


Many education-based interventions that provide information regarding stereotypes essentially suggest suppressing thoughts about negative stereotypes, which usually doesn’t work. For example, try not to think about a pink elephant — what are you thinking about now? Further, teaching groups about stereotype threat may serve to activate these same threats later7. Even explicit focus on positive age-related stereotypes can end up reinforcing antiquated beliefs — both negative and positive3.


Research has shown that as we get older, we increasingly perceive ourselves to feel younger than our chronological age11. These perceptions may shield us from negative stereotypes. In fact, some older people do not identify themselves as a member of their chronological age group; a term called “age-group dissociation.”


Age-group dissociation may:

  • protect older people from applying negative age stereotypes to themselves,
  • reinforce their feelings of being more youthful than their chronological age, and
  • expand their sense of future time left11.


However, there also may be unfavorable effects of age-group dissociation. Older people who do not view themselves as such may not complete important tasks, such as writing advanced directives11. In other words, age-group dissociation probably is not an entirely satisfactory response to negative stereotypes about getting older.


On a more positive note, recent research suggests that self-compassion may be key to developing more balanced beliefs about one’s status as an older person2,8. Using self-compassion to blunt the effect of negative aging stereotypes in older people is a relatively new strategy, although self-compassion and the related constructs of self-acceptance and self-love are not new6. Self-compassion can be defined as unconditional care towards oneself when one is going through difficult times8.


Phillips and Ferguson8 found that higher self-compassion was linked with more positive affect and a greater sense of personal wholeness and meaning in older people. Similarly, greater self-compassion in middle-aged women was associated with more positive attitudes towards aging2. Helping older people nurture self-compassion may be a better way to reduce the influence of negative aging beliefs on older people than a direct attack on those stereotypes.



1Brooks, M., Bichard, S., & Craig, C. (2016). What’s the score?: A content analysis of mature adults in Super Bowl commercials. Howard Journal of Communications27(4), 347-366. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10646175.2016.1206046

2Brown, L., Bryant, C., Brown, V., Bei, B., & Judd, F. (2015). Self-compassion, attitudes to ageing and indicators of health and well-being among midlife women. Aging & Mental Health20(10), 1035-1043. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2015.1060946

3Kay, A., Day, M., Zanna, M., & Nussbaum, A. (2013). The insidious (and ironic) effects of positive stereotypes. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology49(2), 287-291. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2012.11.003

4Kotter-Grühn, D. (2015). changing negative views of aging: implications for intervention and translational research. Annual Review Of Gerontology And Geriatrics35(1), 167-186. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/0198-8794.35.167

5Levy, B., Chung, P., Bedford, T., & Navrazhina, K. (2014). Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes. The Gerontologist54(2), 172-176. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geront/gns194

6Muris, P., & Petrocchi, N. (2016). Protection or vulnerability? A meta-analysis of the relations between the positive and negative components of self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2005

7Nelson, T. (2015). Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (2nd ed.). New York: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

8Phillips, W., & Ferguson, S. (2012). Self-compassion: a resource for positive aging. The Journals Of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences And Social Sciences68(4), 529-539. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbs091

9Trentham, B., Sokoloff, S., Tsang, A., & Neysmith, S. (2015). Social media and senior citizen advocacy: an inclusive tool to resist ageism? Politics, Groups, And Identities3(3), 558-571. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2015.1050411

10Turner, R., Crisp, R., & Lambert, E. (2007). Imagining intergroup contact can improve intergroup attitudes. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations10(4), 427-441. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1368430207081533

11Weiss, D., & Lang, F. (2012). “They” are old but “I” feel younger: Age-group dissociation as a self-protective strategy in old age. Psychology and Aging27(1), 153-163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0024887




Jeff McCarthy is a PhD candidate in the Clinical Neuropsychology program at the University of Windsor in Ontario. His clinical and research interests involve incorporating technology, therapeutic assessment, and a focus on everyday functioning into neuropsychological rehabilitation and management of neuropsychology disorders. He also has an explicit focus on prospective memory and its function in both healthy adults and in those with acquired brain injury and memory impairment.


Dr. Anne Baird is an Associate Professor on the Clinical Neuropsychology track in the Psychology Department at the University of Windsor in Ontario. She has a long-standing research and clinical interest in understanding and supporting everyday function and problem-solving in normal and cognitively-impaired older people.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Aging Tagged: ageism, aging, healthy aging, self-acceptance, self-compassion, stereotype threat, stereotypes, stereotyping

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

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

The Inside Scoop: Straight from the Older Adults in Your Life

elderly african american man enjoying coffee with his granddaughter

By Sheri R. Levy, PhD, Rachel Smith, and MaryBeth Apriceno (Stony Brook University)

Who doesn’t enjoy a good story? This holiday season take a few minutes to listen to a story from an older person in your life. You may learn a thing or two and even find some inspiration. Sure, there are lots of self-help and motivational books out there, but a wealth of helpful inside information about how to find happiness and fulfillment is likely waiting for you a lot closer than you think – at your own dinner table or your neighbor’s doorstep.

Long before the Internet and Wikipedia, older adults were a key source of information about how the world works and how to successfully maneuver our way through life’s endless twists and turns. Unfortunately, our jam-packed, fast-paced schedules often don’t leave time for us to take even a few minutes to learn from the older adults we know.

Spending those few minutes together can be mutually beneficial. When older adults share about their lives, there are psychological benefits for both the older individuals doing the talking and for the younger people doing the listening. Since at least the 1960s, healthcare providers have been successfully dabbling in this kind of informal interviewing in which they encourage unstructured storytelling among older adults. Studies with healthcare providers as well as studies with children in schools show that older individuals doing the talking report reduced depressive symptoms and increased positive well-being, while the individuals listening report receiving valuable life advice and more positive attitudes toward aging and older adults. That’s a win-win.

This activity is simple to do and doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Just ask an older adult you know to share something about her/his life. Be sure to ask for details – lots and lots of them. The positive effects of storytelling are magnified when the story is detailed and comes to life. You’ll get a clearer window into their lives, and they will appreciate and enjoy an engaged listener.

So, go ahead and be a nosy relative, neighbor, and friend, and get to know more about the older adults in your life. You are likely to learn something new, while helping make an older adult feel more valued. You might just make a new friend, strengthen a bond, and discover a role model. Bring on the holiday cheer!


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


Butler, R. N. (1963). The life review: an interpretation of reminiscence in the aged. Psychiatry, 26, 65-76.

Clarke, A., Hanson, E. J., & Ross, H. (2003). Seeing the person behind the patient: enhancing the care of older people using a biographical approach. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 12, 697-706.

Gaggioli, A., Morganti, L., Bonfiglio, S., Scaratti, C., Cipresso, P., Serino, S., & Riva, G. (2014). Intergenerational group reminiscence: A potentially effective intervention to enhance elderly psychosocial wellbeing and to improve children’s perception of aging. Educational Gerontology, 40(7), 486-498. doi:10.1080/03601277.2013.844042

Levy, 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

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

McKeown, J., Clarke, A., & Repper, J. (2006). Life story work in health and social care: systematic literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 55(2), 237-247. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.03897.x

Pinquart, M., & Forstmeier, S. (2012). Effects of reminiscence interventions on psychosocial outcomes: A meta-analysis. Aging and Mental Health, 16(5), 541-558. doi:10.1080/13607863.2011.651434



Sheri R. Levy is an Associate 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’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and Levy publishes her research in journals such as Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Child Development, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Social Issues and Policy Review. 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).

Rachel Smith is currently a graduate student and teaching assistant at Stony Brook University. Rachel received her BA in Psychology from Eugene Lang College in New York City, NY. Her research investigates the role of construal level in the narrative effects on social mindsets, and seeks to elucidate the link between concrete detail and beliefs shown to underlie different styles of person perception.

MaryBeth Apriceno is a graduate student and teaching assistant at Stony Brook University. She received her BA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC. Her research investigates the impact of cultural messages and representations of aging in popular forms of media on ageist attitudes, anti-aging behavior intentions, and aging anxiety.

Filed under: Aging Tagged: healthy aging, mental health, older adults, psychological benefits, social bonding, social relationships

What Macaque Monkeys Might Tell Us About Our Friendships as We Age

Vector pattern with monkeys and hearts

By Geoffrey W. Lane, PhD, ABPP (Geropsychologist)

I’d like to spend this blog post talking about a rather decent-sized bombshell that has rocked the world of lifespan developmental theory and research. Specifically, it is a rather elegant and well-designed study on the social behavior of Barbary macaques in captivity, one that I believe has, at least a little bit, changed the field of lifespan development theory from now on.

For a bit of background – researchers have noticed a tendency through experimental and anecdotal observation for quite a while now – a contrast between older people vs. younger people. It goes like this – older people have a so-called positivity bias in the way they select their friends and conduct themselves.

What do I mean by this?

This idea of the positivity bias is borne largely from the work of Professor Lisa Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity. Dr. Carstensen conducted a series of lab studies where they asked adults and older adults to take part in somewhat arcane tasks, e.g., attending to pictures of happy and sad faces as they’re flashed on a computer screen, and then measuring how long subjects paid attention to the faces. Through this and other related research on social cognition, Dr. Carstensen developed something called the theory of socioemotional selectivity, or SST.

Basically, when we’re young (say, in our teens and twenties), it’s normal to have lots of friends and acquaintances, some emotionally satisfying and close, some perhaps not so much. In addition, younger adulthood tends to be characterized by a yen towards gathering information rather than maximizing positive affect (e.g., ‘happiness’). In other words, younger adults are more geared towards making social contacts and learning about the world around them, even if their activities don’t result in any immediate sense of satisfaction or positivity.

Older adults tend to behave differently. As opposed to having lots of acquaintances and friends, they are much more comfortable with a small group of close friends and family, often a group they’ve cultivated for a number of years. Not only that, they seem less motivated by information-seeking for its own sake, and seem to gear their behavior towards pruning away the people and situations that just don’t add to their level of happiness and satisfaction with their lives.

SST has had a good deal of research to support it over time, and I think for the most part, it’s a very solid theory and tends to comport well with other theories. For example, Paul Baltes’ selective optimization with compensation theory looks at the behaviors of older adults as being focused on being selective in one’s behavior in the service of preserving one’s energy and resources. SST also does a good job of replacing other incorrect and ageist theories of development such as the disengagement theory, which suggested that aging was about gradual withdrawal from the world rather than a more selective deployment of resources.

The thing that’s interesting about SST as a theory is that its proponents (at least up until now), constructed the theory to accommodate the idea of time perspective as being a critical feature. (From the Psychology Wiki):

“…the theory contends that it is not age that is causing the goal shifts but age-associated changes in time perspective. Even younger adults have been shown to pursue present-oriented goals when their time perspective is limited by a fatal illness or life changes such as a college graduation and even older adults favor future-oriented goals when they are asked to imagine an extended future for themselves.”

So it’s not just age, but it’s the fact that human beings have an explicit and cognitive appreciation of their age and their relatively lengthened or shortened time perspectives (as is the case for younger or older adults, respectively). This idea makes sense in the context of SST.

When you’re young, you’re all about gathering information, making as many social connections as possible, because, well, you’re trying to establish yourself and learn your way about the world, I suppose – and you know you have your life ahead of you. Conversely, as an older adult, you’re acutely aware of the fact that you’ve lived more than half of your life (or more). You are settled with the prospect of making sure your remaining days are as happy and pleasant as possible, and you have no more time for friends or situations that cause you more stress or heartache than necessary.

Sounds plausible, right?

Let’s get back to macaque monkeys. In the July issue of Current Biology, Laura Almeling and her colleagues decided to see if SST applied in the case of nonhuman primates, specifically looking at a large colony of 166 monkeys housed in a naturalistic environment in Rocamadour, France. This kind of research is very much weighted towards careful, systematic observation. Ms. Almeling and her colleagues were required to basically sit with these monkeys in their enclosures (which, personally, seems somewhat brave of them) and then present older and younger macaque monkeys with pictures and sounds of pre-identified members of their clans, both close friends, as well as more peripheral ‘acquaintances.’

What they found was just as much of a robust effect in these macaque monkeys supporting the broad outlines of SST as there was in humans. From the Discussion:

“We found a sharp loss of monkeys’ interest in the nonsocial environment in young adulthood…”

These Barbary macaque monkeys basically behaved like humans do when they aged – they remained interested in social relationships, but were far more selective about them. They were less interested in nonsocial stimuli in general, they maintained a smaller, tighter social group. Fellow monkeys (young and old), continued to pay attention to them (as evidenced by grooming behavior). This suggests that the decreased range of social behavior noted in these older monkeys was not explained by the behavior of other monkeys.

Here’s the bombshell, from the Conclusion (emphasis added):

“The finding that nonhuman primates experience marked and differential motivational shifts with age, particularly an increasing focus on social over nonsocial stimuli and shrinking circle of social partners, suggests that some of the motivational changes observed during the human lifespan may be grounded much more deeply in evolution than previously assumed and may not be necessarily tied to an awareness of limited lifetime.”

Indeed. Unless I’m missing something here, it seems that in order to have these findings be consistent with SST theory as it’s commonly understood – as really, a socio-cognitive theory of motivational behavior across the lifespan – we must posit that older Barbary macaque monkeys have an appreciation of their own mortality and relatively limited lifespan compared to their younger social partners (which is something that requires proof!).

In short, it looks like Professor Lisa Carstensen’s SST theory may require some retooling. Clearly, the proverbial baby does *not* need to be thrown out with the bathwater here. On the plus-side for SST theory, the ‘positivity bias’ is a real thing. So much so that it’s not only consistently observable in humans, but observable (as of here) in nonhuman primates as well.

However, on the negative side, the implication of this research is that because (we assume) monkeys cannot understand the fact they will die at some point, the ‘positivity bias’ cannot be explained by awareness of mortality. It must be something else, something more hard-wired. What this mechanism is has yet to be explained. That – or perhaps it’s possible monkeys understand more about death and dying than we can appreciate.

Either way, clearly, whether it’s from older adult monkeys or humans – there is more to discover.



Almeling, L., Hammerschmidt, K., Sennhenn-Reulen, H., Freund, A. M., & Fischer, J. (2016). Motivational shifts in aging monkeys and the origins of social selectivity. Current Biology, 26(13), 1744-1749.

Carstensen, L. L. (1992). Social and emotional patterns in adulthood: support for socioemotional selectivity theory. Psychology and aging, 7(3), 331.



Geoffrey W. Lane, PhD, ABPP is a board-certified Geropsychologist (ABGERO), who practices with the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System at the Livermore Division, within the Community Living Center (CLC; e.g., nursing home). He has been the staff Geropsychologist at the CLC since 2007. Dr. Lane has clinical and research interests that are varied and include dementia care and behavior management, social robotics, and technological innovations in caregiving and long-term care. When not at the CLC or doing private consulting, Dr. Lane can be found blogging about geriatrics and gerontology, or is selling stuff on the internet, playing with his kids, or binge-watching drama shows on Netflix.

Image source: iStockphoto.com



Filed under: Aging Tagged: aging, evolution, friendships, friendships in old age, healthy aging, macaque monkeys, older adults, social relationships, socioemotional selectivity theory, SST

Why We Should Celebrate Senior Citizens Everyday


By Sheri R. Levy, PhD1, Jamie L. MacDonald1, and Ashley Lytle, PhD2 (1Stony Brook University and 2Stevens Institute of Technology)

Have you heard of National Senior Citizens Day? If not, you aren’t alone. This holiday is not often listed on most, if any, calendars. There are usually no headlines or special sales or promotions that accompany this holiday. Why is National Senior Citizens Day virtually forgotten? Probably for the same reasons that led to its establishment in 1988 by President Reagan.

Older adulthood is not universally celebrated and valued.  Ageism (negative attitudes and behavior toward older adults) continues to be a “serious national problem” since it was first discussed by Robert N. Butler, M.D. in 1969. Butler later wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Why Survive? Being Old in America” and became the first Director of the National Institute on Aging in the United States.

Historically, older members of our society were valued for their vast knowledge and contributions to society.  Fast forward to our current society, which has a well-established and profitable market of greeting cards, t-shirts, and other products that portray older adulthood in a negative light, for example being “over the hill.” Our youth-centered society supports a billion dollar industry of “anti-aging” creams, treatments and surgeries, to reduce signs of aging.

Frequent headlines exaggerating the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease add to fears and worries about older adulthood. Save the relatively rare coverage of positive images and outlooks on aging, even though older adulthood can be a fulfilling and happy time in one’s life. In fact, studies show that many older adults report being happy and satisfied with their lives.

Medicare and social security are constantly targets for budget cuts, despite alarming rates of poverty and financial problems among older adults. Forced early retirement and incidents of age discrimination toward older workers are on the rise. Reports of elder abuse (both financial and physical abuse) by health care workers and by family members are also increasing.

Adults aged 65 and over are the largest and fastest growing age group in our society.  It’s long overdue to celebrate senior citizens both on August 21 and other days, too. The 1988 Proclamation is still relevant today.

“Throughout our history, older people have achieved much for our families, our communities, and our country. That remains true today, and gives us ample reason this year to reserve a special day in honor of the senior citizens who mean so much to our land.

With improved health care and more years of productivity, older citizens are reinforcing their historical roles as leaders and as links with our patrimony and sense of purpose as individuals and as a Nation. Many older people are embarking on second careers, giving younger Americans a fine example of responsibility, resourcefulness, competence, and determination. And more than 4.5 million senior citizens are serving as volunteers in various programs and projects that benefit every sector of society. Wherever the need exists, older people are making their presence felt — for their own good and that of others.

For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older — places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance, and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.”

Isn’t it time to celebrate older adults?

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

Carstensen, L. (2011). Laura Carstensen: Older people are happier. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/laura_carstensen_older_people_are_happier

Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longevity increased by positive self-perceptions of aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 261-270. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.83.2.261

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

Levy, S.R., & Macdonald, J.L. (2016). Progress on Understanding Ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 72(1), 1-22. doi:10.1111/josi.12153

McGuire, S. L., Klein, D. A., & Couper, D. (2005). Aging Education: A National Imperative. Educational Gerontology, 31(6), 443-460. doi:10.1080/03601270590928170

Ng, R., Allore, H.G., Trentalange, M., Monin, J.K., & Levy, B.R. (2015). Increasing negativity of age stereotypes across 200 years: Evidence from a database of 400 million words. PLoS ONE, 10, e0117086. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117086

Pillemer, K., Connolly, M., Breckman, R., Spreng, N., & Lachs, M. S. (2015). Elder mistreatment: Priorities for consideration by the White House Conference on Aging. The Gerontologist, 55(2), 320-327. doi:10.1093/geront/gnu180



Sheri R. Levy is an Associate 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’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and Levy publishes her research in journals such as Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Child Development, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Social Issues and Policy Review. 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).

Ashley Lytle is an Assistant Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. Ashley earned her PhD from Stony Brook University, New York, USA.  Her research explores how prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping impact social and health outcomes among marginalized groups. For example, much of Ashley’s research has focused on better understanding prejudice toward older adults and sexual minorities, with the ultimate goal of creating simple, yet effective, interventions to reduce prejudice. She also examines how intergroup contact and beliefs systems relate to prejudice as well as the more applied focus of understanding factors that are involved in the reduction of prejudice and stigmatization.

Jamie L. Macdonald is graduate student 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).


Filed under: Aging Tagged: ageism, aging, healthy aging, National Senior Citizens Day, older adults, senior citizens

It’s Never Too Late to Find Your Inner Athlete

Sports participation offers physical and psychological benefits at any age

By Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, PhD

In August, when the 2016 Summer Olympics open in Rio de Janeiro, we’ll all be amazed by the athletic feats of these world-class athletes. Still, as we watch them leap, zoom, and hurl, we know that these are young people who’ve spent much of their lives in training.

We all know that exercise is good for us, and that even a moderate amount of regular exercise yields both physical and psychological health benefits. (Read my earlier blog post for more about the benefits of exercise, and guidelines on how to get started). Still, exercise and competitive sports can feel like they are worlds apart, and if you’ve never considered yourself an athlete, it may feel like it’s too late to change that part of your self-concept. If you consider the inspirational work of master athletes, though, you realize that it’s never too late to become an athlete – and that finding your sport can bring a variety of physical and psychological benefits, including an opportunity for fun!

Consider, for instance, the amazing story of Olga Kotelko, the Canadian master athlete featured in Bruce Grierson’s best-seller What Makes Olga Run. Kotelko didn’t begin competitive sports until her 70s; and yet, during her 70s, 80s, and 90s, she set 37 world records in track and field events. When she was 93, Kotelko participated with the neuroscientists at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois for a variety of tests, including MRI, and ongoing research indicates the potentially powerful effects of sports participation in keeping the brain healthy into old age.

Kotelko’s brain structure, in her 90s, was as healthy as someone in their 60s – learning new things, and engaging her physical body in skill training, seemed to have been a fountain of youth that kept Kotelko intellectually sharp and engaged until the end of her life. Prevention Magazine offers an overview of the research. Other research has found that sports participation in adulthood is related to a variety of physical and psychological benefits, including increased physical activity, reduced stress, and improved psychosocial connections. In other words: playing sports is a way that we can get fit, have fun, and make connections with other people.

Kotelko is only one of the many amazing master athletes who help us remember that we can be fit, strong, and capable at any age. Award-winning photographer Rob Jerome captures master athletes as they set records. For those attending the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Denver this summer, APA’s Committee on Aging’s conversation hour will feature Jerome and his work. Learn more about how master athletes encourage us all to push faster, higher, and farther, both in sports and in our lives in general. If you can’t make it to the conversation hour, you can check out Jerome’s photos of master athletes at the 2016 USATF Indoor Masters or his 2009 presentation of master athletes over the age of 80 at a world championship event.

Do you want to find your inner athlete?

  • Aspiring swimmers should check out the US Masters Swimming Association, which offers a range of information for a variety of ability levels. You can find adult swimming lessons, get connected with training programs for competitive swimmers, and find local area resources to help you get started.
  • If track and field events are more your style, including race walking, then check out the USA Track and Field Master’s program for resources and support.
  • The USA Tennis Association provides support and information dedicated to adult athletes interested in getting started, or improving their game, on the tennis court. You may also find Lee Bergquist’s book Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete inspiring as you get going.
  • Ready to see some Masters Athletes at their best (or even to give it a go with them)? Consider attending the 2016 World Masters Athletics Championships, held October 26 to November 6, 2016 in Perth, Australia. Can you think of a more exciting reason to travel down under?


Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura is the Division 47 (Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology) representative to APA’s Council on Aging (CONA). Dr. Bonura is a fitness and wellness educator; her work focuses on the benefits of exercise 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].


Filed under: Aging, Health and Wellness Tagged: aging, exercise, healthy aging, master athletes, mature athletes, older adults, older athletes, senior athletes, sports participation