Tag Archives: older adults

5 Steps to Jumpstart Your Career in Aging


By Hardeep Omhi, MA (Gerontology and Human Development and Family Studies Doctoral Student, Iowa State University) 

Did you know that older adults (individuals 65 years of age and older) are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population?

Did you know that in 2035, older adults are projected to outnumber kids for the first time in U.S. history?

Did you know that the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that the majority of the jobs that will have the most growth in the next 10 years are related to aging services?

There is a broad range of exciting and fulfilling personally fulfilling career opportunities to work with this rapidly growing segment of the population. However, students seldom consider pursuing a specialization and career focused on adult development and aging.

There are a variety of factors that come into play when we explore the major subject and career trajectory we would like to pursue. Many of us tend to major in psychology because it offers a variety of avenues to explore and allows us to help others. Within psychology, students tend to pick niches and frequently veer towards specializations of clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and developmental psychology with an emphasis on early life. Those who may consider pursuing a career focused on the later part of the lifespan often find it difficult to discover information about exploring such a career path.

If you or someone you know is interested in exploring careers in aging, here are five steps to take:

1. Gain practical experiences.

Become a research assistant, a volunteer in a setting where older adults are (e.g., senior centers, senior residences, recreation department classes, long-term care facilities), and partake in internships and practicum experiences with older adults. For example, you can capitalize on summers by engaging in paid internships while being a research assistant during the academic year. In these practical experiences, you can ask your supervisors about their career trajectory to explore if it’s something you might be interested in pursuing.

2. Find mentors –  both faculty and graduate students.

Mentors who are supportive and have a personality that meshes with yours are very helpful. It is understandable that your research interests will change over time. Your research interests do not have to exactly match those of your mentors, but it is important that they are parallel to some extent. It’s also helpful to get to know graduate students and potentially have them as mentors because they know what it’s like to be an undergrad and they may be able to relate to you more effectively than a faculty member.

3. Build strong and effective communication skills.

Regardless of whether you’re interested in going into a research or practice-oriented career, it is essential for you to effectively communicate — in both a verbal and written manner. Encourage your mentor or instructor to give feedback on your written work and on your oral presentations.

4. Get to know statistics and how to critically read research articles.

Whether you’re interested in pursuing a research-oriented career or a practice-focused one, it would behoove you to understand statistics and know how to critically disentangle research articles. For example, if you are a manager of a long-term care facility who is interested in decreasing levels of employee burnout, you may look towards research to explore empirically-based programs/interventions to help with this. As such, a strong foundation in statistical and research methodology will help you get through the literature and critically assess how well research findings apply to your employees. In doing so, you’ll encounter issues of reliability, validity, and have the ability to understand what the statistics noted in the research article actually mean.

5. Lastly, take a look at American Psychological Association’s new resource: Exploring Careers in Aging.

These step-by-step educational roadmaps (one for undergraduates and one for graduate students) will help you learn more about career opportunities in aging and ways to prepare for your career trajectory. They also include questions to consider and actions to take at each educational level, examples of adult development and aging-focused careers, and lots of resources.

Figuring out what you should major in and what sort of career path you want to take can be a challenging and exciting process. Gerontology – the study of aging – is a unique field that capitalizes on interdisciplinary work. Students who major in disciplines beyond psychology can also intersect with aging. For example, you can be an engineer who designs technology for older adults or major in business and specialize in later life financial issues. There are endless aging-related career possibilities for you to explore. Using this spiffy and informative APA resource will help you navigate every step of the way.


Hardeep Obhi, MA, is currently a doctoral candidate studying Gerontology and Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University (ISU). She earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology and possesses a master’s degree in Research and Experimental Psychology from San Jose State University. Ms. Obhi was recently awarded an F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institute on Aging within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for her proposal Biopsychosocial Reserves and Dementia: Identifying Life-span Protective Factors, which  will help contribute to the understanding of life-span biopsychosocial reserves to promote cognitive health in later life as well as have implications for developing public health interventions, preventions, and policies for cognitive decline. In addition to her research endeavors, Ms. Obhi has also been an Interdisciplinary Writing Consultant for the Center for Communication Excellence housed within the Graduate College at ISU for three years; in this mentorship role, she helps graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from all disciplines with professional communication in individualized consultations, develops and presents writing seminars and workshops on a variety of topics (e.g., research and grant writing). In Summer 2017, As a graduate intern, Ms. Obhi provided significant support to the APA Office on Aging and the APA Committee on Aging in developing the Exploring Careers in Aging Roadmaps resource.

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.


A Fate Worse than Death? Being Transgender in Long-term Care

Serious transgender couple standing together


By Mark Brennan-Ing, PhD (Senior Research Scientist, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging)


“I would kill myself.” This is what a 70 year-old transgender woman told me recently when I asked what she would do if she needed long-term care. While this sounds dramatic, it is a common sentiment among older transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) adults (Witten, 2014). Many TGNC older adults do not have family caregivers available to meet their needs for assistance in later life, having been rejected and ostracized by their families of origin according to a study by Grant and colleagues (2011), and long-term care services may be their only option.


Plans for concealing gender identities, suicide and euthanasia are one way for older TGNC adults to cope with the fears of entering long-term care (Bockting & Coleman, 2007; Ippolito & Witten, 2014). The National Senior Citizens Law Center (2011) reports that TGNC older adults, regardless of the degree of gender transitioning, are at risk for abuse, mistreatment, or violence in institutionalized settings, especially those needing assistance with activities of daily living such as showering, dressing, and toileting.


Accessing medically competent care may also be a problem for older TGNC adults in long-term care. Geriatric care for TGNC older adults requires special considerations. Due to potential drug interactions, contraindications, and polypharmacy, TGNC older adults using hormone therapy concurrent with other medications may require close monitoring (Grant et al., 2011; SAGE & NCTE, 2012; Witten & Eyler, 2015). Sometimes these problems may require stopping hormone therapy, which may be especially traumatic for those who have transitioned later in life and not yet achieved their goals for masculinizing or feminizing their appearance.


Since private rooms in long-term care facilities are not covered by insurance, older TGNC adults may be assigned shared rooms based on their birth sex instead of their gender identities, which is problematic for the TGNC person as well as their roommate. The Department of Veterans Affairs (2013) has issued a directive that rooms for TGNC veterans are assigned based upon self-identified gender without regard to physical presentation or surgical history. This policy should be a requirement in all long-term care facilities.


The Nursing Home Reform Act and the Fair Housing Act prohibit TGNC discrimination and mistreatment in long-term care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity by health care organizations (NCTE, 2015), but this legal protection is at risk following the 2016 election with promises by those in power to repeal the ACA. If ACA repeal is successful, older TGNC people will lose safeguards around denial of services, access to facilities like restrooms that conform to their gender identities, isolation, deprivation, and harassment by staff.


For long-term care providers, there are a number of resources available for continuing education to better serve their TGNC clients. These include the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, which offers a variety of in-person and on-line training options (http://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/training/index.cfm). Providers working with veterans can review training and education options in the VA system at http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/index.asp . And TRANSLINE provides on-line consultation for medical providers (http://project-health.org/transline/ ).


Sadly, we may soon witness a rollback of protections for TGNC individuals in long-term care. Therefore it is imperative that the TGNC community and their allies work harder than ever to insure that policies, legislation, and training programs are in place to guarantee that older TGNC people are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve in long-term care and other clinical settings.


Portions of this blog were drawn from “Providing competent and affirming services for transgender and gender nonconforming older adults” (Porter, Brennan-Ing et al., 2016), and “Guidelines for psychological practice with transgender and gender nonconforming people (American Psychological Association, 2015).



American Psychological Association (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with transgender and gender nonconforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9), 832-864. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039906 .

Bockting, W. O., & Coleman, E. (2007). Developmental stages of the transgender coming‐out process. In R. Ettner, S. Monstrey, & A. Eyler (Eds.), Principles of transgender medicine and surgery (pp. 185‐208). New York, NY: Haworth.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA; 2013). Providing health care for transgender and intersex veterans (VHA Directive 2013–003). Retrieved from http://www.va.gov/vhapublications/ViewPublication.asp?pub_ID=2863

Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Kiesling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the national transgender discrimination survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality & National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Retrieved from http://endtransdiscrimination.org/PDFs/NTDS_Report.pdf

Ippolito, J., & Witten, T. M. (2014). Aging. In L. Erickson-Schroth (Ed.), Trans bodies, trans selves: A resource for the transgender community (pp. 476-497). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

National Center for Transgender Equality (2015). Know your rights: Healthcare. Retrieved from http://www.transequality.org/know-your-rights/healthcare

National Senior Citizens Law Center (2011). LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities: Stories from the Field.  Washington, DC: National Senior Citizens Law Center.

Porter, K. E., Brennan-Ing, M., Chang, S. C., dickey, l. m., Singh, A. A., Bower, K. L., & Witten, T. M. (2016). Providing competent and affirming services for transgender and gender nonconforming older adults. Clinical Gerontologist. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07317115.2016.1203383

Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) & National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE; 2012). Improving the lives of transgender older adults. New York, NY: Authors. Retrieved from http://transequality.org/Resources/TransAgingPolicyReportFull.pdf

Witten, T.M. (2014). End of life, chronic illness and trans-identities. J. Social Work in End-of-Life and Palliative Care, 10(1), 1-26. doi:10.1080/15524256.2013.988864

Witten, T.M. & Eyler, A.E. (2015). Care of aging transgender and gender non-conforming patients. In. R. Ettner, S. Monstrey and A.E. Eyler (Eds.), Principles of transgender medicine and surgery. New York, NY: Routledge Press.



Mark Brennan-Ing, PhD is the Senior Research Scientist, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging at Hunter College, City University of New York. He was the 2016 Chair of the APA Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.


Filed under: Aging, Health Disparities, LGBT Issues Tagged: health disparities, health equity, LGBT, long-term care, older adults, transgender

Elder Financial Abuse is Here to Stay and It’s Time We Do Something About It


By Osnat Lupesko-Persky (Doctoral Student, Palo Alto University) and Lisa M. Brown, PhD (Professor, Palo Alto University)


On February 13, 2015, the Elder Justice Reauthorization Act (H.R. 988) was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill addresses the growing problem of elder financial abuse and emphasizes the role the federal government should take in coordinating and leading state support efforts. It provides a legal framework for necessary cooperation between federal and state agencies that handle health, legal and social services.


Sadly, since April 2015, the bill has been buried deep in the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training with no signs of progress in its legislation. In this blog post, we describe the reasons why we believe the Reauthorization Act would benefit millions of older adults and their families.


Financial abuse of older adults has been described as “the crime of the 21st century.” While some readers may consider such statements as hyperbole, the facts speak for themselves.


  • According to a 2011 MetLife Study “elder financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.9 billion dollars, a 12% increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008.”
  • More recent research from 2015 by True Link, a California-based financial services firm specializing in retirees, argues that MetLife’s financial estimates are significantly underestimated. According to the True Link report, annual losses due to older adult financial fraud reach $36.48 billion and have been identified as a rapidly growing epidemic.


It is of little surprise, therefore, that older adult financial abuse is an area of societal concern for policy makers, law enforcement, clinicians, and researchers.


What sets elder financial abuse apart from other types of financial fraud?


One significant reason that it is in a league of its own is that older adults are highly vulnerable relative to their younger counterparts. For example, those with diminished physical or mental capacity coupled with declined independence are at greatest risk for financial exploitation by:


  1. relatives, friends or caregivers,
  2. business fraud, such as nursing homes, attorneys, insurance or banking,
  3. fraud by strangers, through communication mediums (internet, phone, mail), and
  4. Medicare and Medicaid fraud.


What makes elder financial abuse so prevalent, persistent and ‘contagious’? Why is elders’ financial fraud ‘here to stay’ and even likely to increase?


There are several reasons supporting our conclusion:


  1. Baby-boomers, recently crossing the ‘senior’ threshold, are considered both money-makers and money spenders: According to a Nielsen report from 2012 “Boomers make the most money and they spend what they make”. Indeed, according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, persons over 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth, and it is expected to increase.
  2. Improved longevity means an increased percentage of older adults with significant financial power: The Nielsen report predicted that by 2017, 50% of U.S. adult population will be aged 50 and older and they will control 70% of the country’s disposable income. Also, by 2050, there will be 161 million adults aged 50 and older, a 63% increase from 2010.
  3. Baby-boomers are a significant consumer force: Boomers account for nearly $230 billion in spending on consumer packaged goods and possess a whopping buying force of almost 50% of total sales. Such strong spending by an aging group of the population is bound to attract fraud attempts.
  4. Baby-boomers are technology-savvy: they account for 40% of wireless customers, and 41% of apple computers clients. In addition, they spend on average 22-25 hours monthly using the internet on a computer, which is 2 hours more than the monthly average of 14-25 years old. As financial fraud through the Internet increases, so will fraud attempts against older adults making purchases online.


How does financial abuse impact older adults?


Studies suggest that financial abuse frequently results in reduced emotional and physical health, in addition to financial damage. The True Link report estimated that almost 950,000 elderly victims are skipping meals as a result of financial abuse. Naturally, when a subset of the population is already more vulnerable physically and emotionally, the impact of a crime would be even more severe.


What is the right approach to address elder financial abuse – prevention or support and assistance after-the-fact?


In the past two decades, researchers and government policy-makers focused mainly on creating methods that law enforcement and other organizations could use to identify fraud attempts in order to preempt them. Far less academic research has focused on the types of support – legal, social, mental health or other – required after the damage was done. As a result, there are no viable policies that address mechanisms of support for older adult victims of financial abuse, and there are no significant mechanisms of coordination and cooperation between the different agencies (e.g., legal, social, health, etc.).


Since we now know that elder financial abuse is a growing problem, it is of paramount importance to expedite this legislation in order to:

  • accelerate collaboration between relevant agencies and
  • develop programs that provide better and more comprehensive care for older adults who are victims of financial abuse.




DaDalt, O. (2016). Older adults and fraud: Suggestions for policy and practice. Journal of Economic & Financial Studies4(03), 38-44.


H.R. 988 Elder Justice Reauthorization Act. Retrieved from: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/988


MetLife (2011).The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America’s Elders. Retrieved from: https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2011/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf


Nielsen and Boomagers, LLC. (2012). Introducing Boomers – Marketing’s most valuable generation. Retrieved from: http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2012-Reports/nielsen-boomers-report-082912.pdf


True Link. (2015). The True Link report on elder financial abuse. Retrieved from: https://truelink-wordpress-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/True-Link-Report-On-Elder-Financial-Abuse-012815.pdf


U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2011). Elder Justice: Stronger Federal Leadership Could Enhance National Response to Elder Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.gao.gov/assets/320/316224.pdf




Osnat Lupesko-Persky is a second year PhD student in Clinical Psychology at Palo Alto University and focuses on various areas of intersection between psychology and the law. Prior to her studies, Osnat worked as a criminal defense attorney at the law firm of Brafman & Associates in New York City. Osnat holds a Master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School, Tufts University.

Lisa M. Brown, PhD, ABPP is a professor of psychology and director of the Trauma Program at Palo Alto University. She is licensed in Florida and California and is board certified through The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in Geropsychology. Dr. Brown’s clinical and research focus is on trauma and resilience, aging, health, vulnerable populations, disasters, and long-term care. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Aging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service, and the Agency for Healthcare Administration.


Image source: Shutterstock

Filed under: Aging, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: aging, elder abuse, elder financial abuse, financial abuse, older adults

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

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