Neil Charness, director of FSU’s Institute for
Successful Longevity, is quoted in a New York Times article about older adults
venturing into jobs that require tech skills:
“There are a lot of barriers to older workers moving
into that industry,” said the psychologist Neil Charness of Florida State
University, who has studied issues related to aging and technology use for two
Pervasive stereotypes about older workers, he said, include the
perception among employers (and even among many older adults themselves) that
“they’re not tech-savvy, and that they can’t learn new things.”
Not true. Although aging brains might take a little
longer to learn new tech skills, Dr. Charness said, “they can still do it.”
You can read the story at: https://nyti.ms/2F1dk0y
Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, left, and Dawn Carr, with Journey, a golden retriever in training to be a pet-therapy dog.
“Pets can do wonders for older adopters,” gushed a recent
headline in one Florida newspaper, expressing a common belief. But is it true
that a dog or a cat can make life better for older family members, or is this
simply a comfortable myth?
Two researchers with Florida State University’s Institute
for Successful Longevity intend to find out.
With support of the Gerontological Society of America and
Mars Petcare/WALTHAM, Dawn Carr, Ph.D., and Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, Ph.D., will
tap into data on human-animal interaction collected as part of the Health and
Retirement Survey, a long-term study of more than 20,000 individuals 50 years
old or older.
“The Health and Retirement Survey is the source of data for
many studies, but until now its questions on human-animal interaction have
drawn little attention. We will look at the responses and try to determine if a
companion animal is beneficial to older people,” said Carr, of Florida State
University’s Department of Sociology.
“We know that an animal can be a social facilitator,”
said¬¬¬ Sachs-Ericsson, of FSU’s Department of Psychology. “People like pets –
think of all the times someone has stopped to talk when you are out walking
your dog – and pets can be a bridge for conservation and interaction. We want
to pursue this idea further. Are these pet-triggered social interactions
significant? Do they ease the loneliness and improve the lives of older
individuals? Importantly, we also wish to determine if the older adult’s
relationship with their pet significantly contributes to their health and
Sachs-Ericsson explained that the benefits of companion
animals are thought to be related, in great part, to social processes and that
theories linking benefits of pets to older adults parallel our theoretical understanding
as to how social connectedness among older adults is associated with better
The data in the Health and Retirement Survey may provide
As they study the responses of the 20,000 individuals in the
database, Carr and Sachs-Ericsson will look for indications whether pet
ownership assists those who have lost a loved one.
“In our study, we will give particular attention to whether
a pet is beneficial to those who are socially isolated and have suffered a loss
such as the death of a spouse,” said Carr.
In their research, Carr and Sachs-Ericsson will study four
aims that will test the hypothesis that a companion animal is beneficial to
health in older people, particularly those who are socially isolated and
experience a major social loss. They will:
- Identify critical factors that predict selecting a companion
animal later in life, particularly in relation to health, and to understand the
selection processes that may influence the benefits of companion animals on
- Determine if and in what ways human social processes are
involved in shaping the relation between companion animals and human health.
- Examine the influence of companion animals on health among
socially isolated older adults relative to socially integrated older adults who
experience a major social loss.
- Contribute to a theoretical framework outlining the
relationships between human-animal interaction among older adults and human
“We will try to generate a model that will help us better
understand how social context shapes the relevance of companion animals for a
range of health problems later in life, particularly for vulnerable older
adults,” Sachs-Ericsson said.
The $50,000 grant award to the FSU researchers was announced
at the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics World Congress.
THE RESEARCH TEAM
Dawn C. Carr received her Ph.D. in Social Gerontology and
Master’s in Gerontological Studies at Miami University, and Bachelor of Arts in
Music Performance at Arizona State University. Carr’s expertise lies in
understanding the factors that bolster older adults’ ability to remain healthy
and active as long as possible.
With Kathrin Komp, Carr published “Gerontology in the Era of
the Third Age: Implications and Next Steps” in 2011. Her recent work focuses on
understanding the complex pathways between health and active engagement during
later life, including the impact of key transitions in health, productivity, and
Natalie Sachs-Ericsson obtained her Ph.D. in Clinical
Psychology at Southern Illinois University. She completed Post-Doctoral study
at University of Colorado-Boulder and at Max Planck Institute in Berlin
Sachs-Ericsson’s research interests are psychiatric
epidemiology in general population and elderly population samples, and her
focus is on early trauma, depression, cognitive decline and suicide. In her
lab, she and students examine protective and risk factors as well as psychosocial
factors that influence the onset and course of psychiatric disorders, dementia
By Neil Charness
for Successful Longevity
Florida State University
The very first digital divide report
in 1995 noted that rural Americans and older adults were the most disadvantaged
in terms of access to and adoption of computer technology.
Although the gap has narrowed somewhat on
computer ownership, you don’t have to look much past the case of today’s nearly
ubiquitous smartphone to see that the more things change the more they stay the
Although nearly 80% of seniors
(those age 65+) have cell phones, only about 40% have smartphones while those
under 50 years of age are nearing 90% smartphone ownership
Why has this gap persisted and what are the
prospects for future generations of older adults?
For clues, look at the reasons why people adopt technology
products. Most technology adoption theories
stress two primary factors: costs and
benefits. For information and
communication technology products, costs are usually reflected in both the
purchase price and the person’s perception of how easy it will be to use a
product, its “usability.” On dollar cost, smartphones with accompanying data
plans can be pretty pricy for those on a fixed income. The ease-of-use perception can also include
use after a period of disuse and the availability of support when hurdles are
encountered. Benefits revolve around perceived
usefulness, how the device or service supports and improves on current methods
and tools to meet important personal goals.
National surveys, such as the Pew Internet and American Life
project annual surveys of computer and Internet use,
consistently find lags in technology adoption by older birth cohorts. Such surveys sometimes include polls of
non-adopters, trying to find their reasons for not using technology. Reasons most often cited are lack of
perceived usefulness, and occasionally “I’m too old to learn,” a failure of
self-efficacy. Such doubts, perhaps
driven by diminished cognitive ability and less positive attitudes toward
computers, are consistent negative predictors of adoption and use of technology
in research findings that I and my CREATE
colleagues have been conducting over the past 20 years.
Cognitive abilities do change significantly with age. Abstract problem-solving ability, what we use
when confronted with new problems unrelated to our current knowledge, together
with learning rate show consistent declines from the decade of the 20s
onward. On the positive side, general knowledge
tends to increase into the 50s and 60s.
But, the challenge with information and communication technology is that
such products are changing constantly and important new classes of products are
springing up faster and faster. Consider
the facsimile (FAX) machine, invented by Alexander Bain in 1843. It took about 150 years to be widely adopted
in businesses and households. In
contrast, the Internet was available in half of U.S. household by 2001, a mere
18 years after TCP/IP protocol was invented.
Technology appears to be diffusing at an accelerating pace. Hard-won information and communication
technology knowledge becomes obsolete ever more quickly.
My hunch is that slowing of the learning rate in adulthood
is a significant barrier for technology adoption. Even if perceived benefits remain high for
technology, perceived costs of learning are rising with each newly celebrated
birthday. At the same time there are
life course changes in motivation to learn new things compared to investing in
familiar relationships (Carstensen,
Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999).
Consider your attitude to acquiring technology if what took you 15
minutes to master in your 20s becomes 30 minutes in your 70s. Your costs for
new learning are likely to be rising inexorably with age. Hence, you are going to be more reluctant to
take on the learning task unless you see much greater benefit than you did in
your 20s. Keep in mind that we are
talking about averages, and variability in learning rate is likely to increase
with age. Older adults are more unalike
than younger ones.
From these trends, I would predict that future generations
of older adults, for instance, today’s millennials, will also end up as
technology laggards, despite their vaunted reputation as early adopters. That is, they will experience declines in
cognitive abilities that will handicap them in ways similar to today’s baby
boomers. They, too, will likely undergo
life course changes in motivation that will make them more willing to invest in
maintaining familiar relationships than in learning about new tech products.
There are a few caveats to these predictions. First, it may be the case that technology
will become much easier to use in the future.
I and my CREATE colleagues
have been developing guidelines for technology designers, for both design and
training, to enable more aging adults to enjoy the technology revolution’s many
benefits. Also, systems may become
simpler to use over time, though looking at the enhanced capabilities added
almost yearly to smartphones makes me skeptical. The final wild card is artificial
intelligence. As AI advances, it could be the case that intelligent tutors will
become embedded in most future devices, providing instant tech support when
Maybe next time it truly will be different. But less than perfect humans coupled with
much less than perfectly designed and manufactured products are likely to
maintain a moderately steep technology learning curve for the next 50
years. I have no doubt that people were
probably complaining about the tech support for the wheel in caveman times. Still,
overwhelming benefits can balance out learning costs. There is considerable hope for increased technology
adoption today and into the future by our aging population.
Erman Ozguven, Ph.D.
College of Engineering
We are all shocked
by the tragic consequences of hurricanes Harvey
and Irma, from older people sitting waist-deep in water in Houston to the
air-conditioning failure that killed residents in a Florida nursing home. Today
the question is, how can we protect older adults from such adverse effects?
According to a 2007
study by Cahalan and Renne, among the 1,800 people who lost their lives in
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the fatalities were mostly older adults,
with 71 percent of the victims older than 60 and 47 percent over the age of 75.
Our study in Transport Reviews (Ozguven et al., 2016) clearly states
that these fatalities were disproportionally older people who lived
independently or who were not willing or able to evacuate whether they were
living alone or in nursing homes.
learned from Hurricane Katrina helped agencies and governments to prepare and order evacuations of nursing homes and retirement communities in danger as Irma
approached the Florida coast. About 400 nursing homes, assisted living
communities and other health-care facilities were evacuated, and 21,000 people
were housed in 81 special-needs shelters in Florida. Likely, this was the
largest evacuation ever recorded for the licensed senior-care facilities.
Even though we
gained many such lessons from previous hurricanes
such as Katrina, there are still more to learn. We must ensure that those
lessons are used to develop plans that are widely employed and not just sit on
agency shelves and gather dust.
Calls to evacuate
are complicated at the personal level by the vulnerability of seniors due to
transportation accessibility, power availability, physical and cognitive
impairments, or lack of financial resources. During Irma, the availability of
special-needs and pet-friendly shelters also played a significant role in
whether older residents evacuated, especially in areas not given mandatory
evacuation orders. For many older adults, pets function as members of their
family, so we need more pet-friendly shelters available and accessible during hurricanes.
researchers from Florida State University’s Institute for Successful Longevity,
Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, Center for Accessibility and
Safety for an Aging Population, College of Social Sciences and Public Policy
and the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering are using multi-disciplinary approaches
to help reduce the harm and alleviate the suffering hurricanes
can bring to their older victims. These multi-disciplinary centers play an
active role in conducting collaborative research activities focusing on an
aging population with significant practical implementations.
study in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences (Douglas et al., 2017) provides evidence
of a mismatch between pet-friendly shelter availability and need in the
Miami-Dade area, particularly among pet owners lacking financial resources and
older adults living farther from shelters. The latter problem can potentially
be addressed by repurposing existing mass shelters in order to serve those
older adults with special needs so as to avoid transporting these seniors
longer distances, as shown in a recent study in Disasters (Horner et
there is a need to better educate the public about the dangers of the hurricanes —storm surges, flooding, power outages,
fallen trees, roadway disruptions — in order to foster better participation by
the older adults in voluntary evacuations. Agencies also can strongly encourage
seniors to evacuate on their own before evacuations are mandated, which could
keep them away from congested roadways and problems with gasoline outages.
Based on the lessons learned, there is an urgent need
to adjust the existing strategies and develop concrete emergency plans in order
to address the uncertainty of hurricane conditions in Florida and throughout
the Gulf Coast. With this approach, we may avoid tragedies that have plagued
older adults in past emergencies.
Erman Ozguven, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering
and a faculty affiliate of Florida State University’s Institute for Successful
Larry Polivka, Ph.D., director, Pepper
Anne Barrett, Ph.D., director, Pepper Institute on
Aging & Public Policy and professor of sociology
Irma cut a destructive path through Florida leaving many people with damaged
homes and businesses and communities without essential infrastructure and
services. One of the saddest, most heart wrenching, and perhaps avoidable, of
all the terrible effects from Irma, was the death of 12 residents in a
Hollywood nursing home and the suffering of over a hundred other residents. That
these individuals suffered as a result of apparent negligence on the part of
the facility’s operators seems probable and will ultimately be decided by
regulators and the courts.
that should not be the end of the scrutiny; in fact, it should open our eyes to
an issue that has not received proper attention for several years – the state
of publicly funded long-term care (LTC) in Florida. We have good reason to fear that the state is
not prepared to care properly for the great growth in the number of those
needing LTC over the next 20 years. This growth will come with the
unprecedented increase in Florida’s 75- and 85-year-old and older population
between now and 2040.
does not now have the foundation required to meet the future need for care
provided through in-home, nursing home and assisted living programs. AARP
released a report in June 2017 that provides a well-designed comparative
assessment of every state’s LTC system using criteria such as ease of access to
care and quality of care provided. Florida was ranked 46th in the
overall quality of its publicly funded LTC system, far below states such as
Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin that are ranked the highest.
Florida ranked 43rd in the 2013 AARP report.
illustrating the problems facing older Floridians needing LTC are the long and
growing wait lists. The wait list for Medicaid-supported services alone is now
over 47,000 persons and grows each year by several thousand, a pace likely to
increase if more funding is not made available soon. Closer analysis of these
trends is needed, with an eye toward policies and funding increases that can
address the gaps in care for older Floridians.
also need to take a close look at the way Florida now delivers publicly funded
LTC services. In 2013, the state removed
control of community-based LTC programs from the long-standing non-profit Aging
Network by contracting for the delivery of these services with for-profit HMOs.
This shift was made with very little public debate in spite of the fact that
the Aging Network organizations had built and very effectively administered the
publicly supported community-based programs for over 25 years. It is time to
take an in-depth, objective look at this arrangement and determine if it is
best for the state and its citizens as we prepare for the future.
has a long history of innovation in LTC stretching back to the creation of the
community care and home care for the elderly programs in the mid-1970s. The
state also has a history of using governor- and Legislature-appointed
commissions on aging to identify issues and concerns and generate innovative
policy options to address them. Three commissions were appointed between 1984
and 2000. The 2000 Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, produced a
comprehensive set of policy recommendations that were supported by Gov. Bush and
largely passed into law by the 2001 Legislature. Unfortunately, some of the
most progressive provisions of this legislation, including increased caregiving
staff levels in nursing homes, have been undone since 2005 in order to reduce
funding in the Florida Medicaid LTC budgets.
lot has happened since 2000 as the population needing LTC has grown and
programs have changed. It is now time for a new commission with a comprehensive
mandate to address the future of aging and LTC in Florida to be appointed. The
commission would be expected to inform the public and our policymakers about
what we are doing well in LTC, where we are failing, and what we must do to assure
the citizens of Florida that our LTC system will be able to provide the quality
of care persons needing help deserve in the years ahead. It does not take a
commission, however, to know that the state should begin now to increase
funding substantially for its LTC system in order to reduce the number who need
care but aren’t receiving it and to better prepare for the huge increase in
need for LTC that is already underway.
By Dawn Carr, Ph.D.
College of Social Sciences and Public Policy
When I was in college, my mother died during my junior year
following a two-year struggle with cancer. As difficult as it was for me to
lose her, my dad was in his early 50s and had to face changes in his life that
were well beyond my comprehension as a 21-year-old. My mom and dad had been
married 31 years when my mom died, and they had been together since the eighth
grade. It’s hard to believe anyone could recover from something like that. And
the truth is, not everyone fully adjusts to widowhood. So, why do some people
do better than others?
If we get married and manage to stay married into old age,
we can and should expect to become widowed at some point. Only about one in 10
older men report being widowed. This is because they tend to marry women who
are younger, they have lower average life expectancy, and, they are more likely
to remarry following widowhood.
Even though widowhood is more common among women — over 1/3
of older women report being widowed — men, on average, tend not to adjust as
well as women.
To better understand why some people fair better than
others, it is helpful to consider the factors that make widowhood especially
difficult. Perhaps most obvious, widowhood is difficult because it makes us
feel sad— we miss our spouses after they die, and we feel sad because someone
who has been in our lives for a long time are no longer with us. But, the deep
sadness that comes with new widowhood can be short-lived. So, we have to
consider the range of factors that have a long-term impact.
When we lose our spouse, we have to take on all household
chores without the help of another person, we no longer have someone to help
care for us, and we might lose an important source of income, leaving us
without the ability to get help from others if we need it. However, perhaps the
most concerning problem relates to social interactions. When a spouse dies, we
no longer have someone available to talk with, to share our intimate
experiences with on a daily basis.
For older people, this is accentuated by the fact that most
people over age 65 are retired and do not have a work environment in which to
interact with others on a regular basis. As a result, it is common for widows
to be fairly socially isolated and subsequently, to become lonely. Persistent
loneliness is not only unpleasant, research shows that it has significant
effects on our health; in fact, it has a similar effect on mortality risk as
When it comes to aging well, or aging “successfully,” research suggests that those who enjoy the best health and wellbeing in old age avoid getting chronic illnesses, maintain high cognitive and physical functioning, and stay engaged in life. One reason that staying actively engaged, such as in activities like volunteering, is beneficial is that these sorts of activities usually involve interacting with others in ways that are meaningful and productive, which creates a sense of social connectedness. But, even though feeling lonely means that we feel disconnected from others, can engaging in activities that help build a strong sense of connectedness with others be the anecdote when it comes to a time when loneliness persists?
In a recently published research study, my colleagues and I
explored whether volunteering impacts how well people adjust to widowhood. We
found that individuals who started volunteering after they became widowed, and
engaged in at least two hours per week experienced no greater loneliness than
their continuously married counterparts. In other words, volunteering did seem
to provide an anecdote for persistent loneliness following widowhood, but only
for those who committed to regular engagement.
As noted earlier, research has suggested that men tend to
experience greater detrimental effects to their health following widowhood.
Some researchers have proposed that one reason men struggle more is because
(current cohorts of) older men are less socially embedded than women are in
later life. My colleagues and I were interested in exploring what factors were
associated with better outcomes for men, and in another recent study, we looked
to a common early life experience among current older men — military
About half of all older men today served in the military. We
were interested in whether involvement in the military, an institution that
creates a ready social network with shared experiences, left a lasting impact
on men’s ability to recover from widowhood in later life. We discovered that
the military itself did not provide men with better outcomes, and we discovered
a counterintuitive finding. The men who had been exposed to death while serving
in the military experienced no increase of loneliness following the death of
his spouse, a relationship that was unexplained by the social networks that the
men engaged in.
We hypothesized that having experienced a death earlier in
life may have given the men experiences, tools, and potentially emotional
resources from which to draw when faced with widowhood later on.
Although it is not possible to draw conclusions about the
results of our research, and further research is certainly needed to figure out
what specific factors set people up to handle the loss of a spouse in our later
years, our research does suggest a few things that might help.
First, regularly engaging in volunteering is known to be
associated with a range of other health and well-being benefits, even in the
absence of widowhood. For instance, volunteering on a regular basis is
associated with benefits such as decreased depressive symptoms, enhanced
functional health, and decreased risks of mortality. As a result, if you become
widowed, picking up a new volunteer job and engaging on a regular basis a few
hours a week may not take away all of the pain and challenges you will face,
but it is unlikely to cause you harm.
Second, it may be possible to accumulate emotional or social
resources that help us more effectively handle the consequences of experiencing
widowhood. Although no one would choose the unlucky path of having a major loss
early in life, it may be possible to learn important skills in other ways that
help us to be more resilient when we do experience difficult situations like
The findings from our study are limited to men in the
military, so we plan to complete further research to help us better understand
the unique circumstances that the military provides for handling difficult life
events, and also learn how these findings extend to others, including women,
who haven’t served in the military.
OLLI — the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — is an integral part of FSU's commitment to people in all stages of life and learning.By Neil Charness, Ph.D.Director, the Institute for Successful LongevityWilliam G. Chase Professor of Psychology
Florida State University was recently awarded the designation of being
an Age-Friendly University. The age-friendly university initiative is an
international effort, started in Ireland by Dublin City University, and it fits nicely with initiatives such as WHO’s age-friendly city and community effort, being
spearheaded locally by Sheila Salyer and the Tallahassee Senior Center. These initiatives represent grassroots efforts to address the challenges
of an aging society.
The Age-friendly University initiative aims to highlight the role
higher education plays in responding to the challenges and opportunities
associated with an aging population. It has 10 principles for distinguishing
and evaluating age-friendly programs and policies as well as defining
opportunities for growth:
§ To encourage the participation of older adults
in all the core activities of the university, including educational and
§ To promote personal and career development in
the second half of life and to support those who wish to pursue second careers.
§ To recognize the range of educational needs of
older adults (from those who were early school-leavers through to those who
wish to pursue master’s or Ph.D. qualifications).
§ To promote intergenerational learning to
facilitate the reciprocal sharing of expertise between learners of all ages.
§ To widen access to online educational
opportunities for older adults to ensure a diversity of routes to
§ To ensure that the university’s research
agenda is informed by the needs of an aging society and to promote public
discourse on how higher education can better respond to the varied interests
and needs of older adults.
§ To increase the understanding of students of
the longevity dividend and the increasing complexity and richness that aging
brings to our society.
§ To enhance access for older adults to the
university’s range of health and wellness programs and its arts and cultural
§ To engage actively with the university’s own
§ To ensure regular dialogue with organizations
representing the interests of the aging population.
When I first heard of this
opportunity a few years ago, I realized that FSU met many of the principles
already. We have an active non-credit educational program through the Osher
Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), and FSU, of course, offers credit courses to
students, including non-traditional (older) students. The College of Social Work houses our certificate
program in gerontology, open to both undergraduate and graduate
students. FSU’s Career Center provides superb service to students and alumni, and we also specialize
in providing education and career guidance to veterans through the Student Veterans Center.
We have an active
Association of Retired Faculty (ARF). Our Institute for Successful Longevity already
works with seniors throughout the region to include them in research through
registry. FSU is famous for its arts and
cultural programs and provides many free (e.g., student recital) events to the
It was easy to work with
other Center Directors here (e.g., Anne Barrett, Director of the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, Larry Polivka, Director of the Pepper Center) to structure an application, confer with senior
administrators at FSU, and get the go ahead to apply. Even though we have succeeded in achieving this
designation, there are plenty of opportunities to broaden and deepen our
ISL aims to improve the
chances for successful longevity by all those who are benefiting from the longevity
dividend, the nearly 30-year increase in
life expectancy at birth that our nation has enjoyed between the 20th
and 21st centuries. FSU as an
age-friendly university can play a leading role in this effort.
Department of Psychology
We all often blank on
an acquaintance’s name or forget a phone number that we’ve just checked. When we’re young, we don’t pay much attention
to these memory failures, but as we grow older, we become concerned more about
what they mean. According to a new
national survey (West Health Institute/NORC Survey on Aging on America: http://www.westhealth.org/press-release/worries-about-aging-loom-large-for-americans-over-30-survey-finds/), memory loss is
one of the leading concern for 60+ Americans. Older adults often not only
perceive memory failures but also frequently complain about the perceived
memory failures. In fact, increase in memory complaints in older adults
can be seen as a “normal” part of aging, which is associated with age-related
memory decline. But memory complaints might be a possible indicator of
more serious cognitive and functional deterioration, including dementia and
Alzheimer’s disease. Aging researchers have thus been interested in studying
memory complaints in older adults.
Memory complaints and depressive symptoms
However, early research has shown that
subjective memory complaints in older adults are just partly based on actual
memory performance. In fact,
research has shown that subjective memory complaints are associated with some
other factors, such as depressive symptom and personality traits (e.g.
neuroticism and conscientiousness) reflecting In fact,
research has shown that subjective memory complaints are associated with some
other factors, such as depressive symptom and personality traits (e.g.
neuroticism and conscientiousness) reflecting negative affectivity. Particularly, the link between subjective
memory complaints and depressive symptoms in older adults has intrigued aging
researchers for decades. In general,
individuals with more depressive symptoms complaints more about their memory. Recent
studies also support the notion that changes in memory complaints over time may
be affected by depressive symptoms rather than monitoring of actual age-related
This is not surprising because depressive
symptoms would lead individuals to interpret a common, everyday memory problem,
such as a forgetting incident, more seriously because depressive affect would
increase concern for the negative information (i.e. memory problem). Older adults with depressive symptoms might also
be more susceptible to everyday memory problems, perceiving them as an
indicator of more serious age-related cognitive decline .
The type of memory complaints, depressive symptoms, and cognitive
of previous studies have mainly relied on very brief and global assessments of
subjective memory measured by participants’ responses on a limited number of
items (e.g. “Over the past month, have you had difficulty with your
memory?”). This measure may not be
sensitive enough to detect subtle changes in memory and would simply reflect
older adults’ general beliefs about their memory rather than actual changes in
the limitation, some aging researchers have attempted to assess the
relationship between subjective memory complaints and depressive symptoms using
a more extensive subjective memory complaint scale, namely, the Memory
Functioning Questionnaire (MFQ) .
measures four different types of memory complaints: 1) Frequency of Forgetting
(FF; How often do you forget names, faces, appointments, etc.?), 2) Seriousness
of Forgetting (SF; When you actually forget those items, how serious of a
problem do you consider the memory failure to be?), 3) Retrospective
Functioning (RF; How is your memory compared to the way it was 1 year ago, 5
years ago, and so on?), and 4) Mnemonic Usage (MU; How often do you use
techniques – e.g. keep an appointment book, make lists of things to do, etc. – to
remind yourself about things?).
shows that the
associations between memory complaints and depressive symptoms can vary with
the specific type of memory complaints measured by the MFQ . In particular, among the four different types
of memory complaints, reporting more frequent forgetting (FF) is most strongly
associated with depressive symptoms. Reporting a greater decline in memory
function (RF) is also linked to depressive symptoms. However, seriousness of
forgetting (SF) and mnemonic usage (MU) are not associated with depressive
a pattern of relationships between cognitive factors and memory complaints also
varies with the type of MFQ measure. In the same study , older adults with
higher cognitive functioning reported less frequent forgetting incidents (FF),
although they tended to report a worse decline in memory (RF) and a more use of
mnemonics (MU). The results indicates that older adults with
better cognitive functioning might be more likely to notice declines in memory
functioning and undertake compensating activities (e.g. use of mnemonics) to
cope with the perceived memory problems.
What those findings mean and how we use them
people perceive their own memory functioning can have important implications
for assessing cognitive and clinical aspects in later life. Previous studies have
demonstrated that the investigation of specific patterns between
the type of memory complaints and depressive symptoms might allow us to
differentiate individuals experiencing mild memory deficit from those with
depressive symptoms. It means that investigators and clinicians should
carefully examine if and how the associations between memory complaints,
depressive symptoms, and cognitive factors vary with the specific type of
memory complaints. More specifically, it appears that clinicians
need to screen for depression when older clients present with complaints about
It is important to investigate where memory
complaints come from, how older adults deal with this perceived memory decline,
and how these are tied in with the individual’s well-being.
Future studies could benefit from exploring activated neural pathways
underlying the association between depressive symptoms, cognition, and memory
complaints as well as the effect of aging on them.
 Hülür, G., Hertzog,
C., Pearman, A., Ram, N., & Gerstorf, D. (2014). Longitudinal associations
of subjective memory with memory performance and depressive symptoms:
Between-person and within-person perspectives. Psychology and Aging, 29, 814-827.
A., Hertzog, C., & Gerstorf, D. (2014). Little evidence for links between
memory complaints and memory performance in very old age: Longitudinal analyses
from the Berlin Aging Study. Psychology
and Aging, 29, 828-842.
 Gilewski, M. J., Zelinski, E. M., & Schaie, K. W. (1990). The
Memory Functioning Questionnaire for assessment of memory complaints in
adulthood and old age. Psychology and
Aging, 5, 482–490.
J-., Charness, N., Boot, W. R., Czaja, S. J., & Rogers, W. A. (in press). Depressive
Symptoms as a Predictor of Memory Complaints in the PRISM Sample. The
Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.
By Neil Charness, Ph.D.
A silk worker in the 1940s works from home in Patterson, New Jersey, as he's no longer part of the factory work force; life for older workers has changed since then, but challenges remain in the 21st century economy.
Director, Institute for Successful Longevity
There is an interesting development in terms of
older adult participation in the paid labor force — people are working longer,
reversing a decades-long trend toward earlier retirement.
The huge Baby Boom cohort has expressed interest
in working past “normal” retirement periods of age 62, with partial pension,
and age 65 for full pension. (Retirement with full Social Security benefits
comes at age 67 for those born after 1960 and between 66 and 67 for Baby Boomers.)
Of course, not long ago people worked their entire
lives, before national governments became rich enough to support the
creation of social safety nets such as Social Security here in the United
States (instituted in 1935). One of the earliest
national plans was established in 1889 in Prussia/Germany by Otto von Bismarck,
then chancellor, with entitlement set at age 70 (not the mythical 65 most
people have heard of, though the government eventually set the earliest
pensionable age to 65 in 1916, years after Bismarck’s death). There were private
pension plans long before public ones, with the first in the United
States apparently being that by the American Express Company in 1875. By 1929,
nearly 400 retirement plans were in operation.
This work-longer trend is occurring at a time of dropping participation rates in the labor force. The participation rate is defined as the
proportion of the civilian noninstitutional population that is in the labor
force. Non-institutional means those people 16 years of age and older
residing in the 50 states and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of
institutions (penal, mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on
active duty in the Armed Forces.
There are a number of reasons that older adults
might be staying longer at work. One factor may be the shift of risk from
companies to individuals for private retirement savings, marked by companies
dropping defined benefit-pension plans, which pay fixed and predictable pensions,
to defined-contribution plans, where the individual is responsible for
investing with uncertainty about the payoff on retirement if investments go
Another is the trend of not having pensions
offered at all in some, usually smaller, companies, especially for low-wage
workers. Another is that the centuries-long increases in life expectancy
(which may now be reversing) is making people
aware of the possibility of outliving their financial resources, so they retire
later as a buffer against that uncertainty.
Certainly there are other cost-shifts that have
occurred, for instance, in paying for health benefits, that make people more
uncertain about whether they have saved enough for increasing health care costs
while retired. (No Virginia, there is no Uncle Sam or Santa Claus to pay
skilled nursing home care should you be incapacitated at the end
of life, until you exhaust
all your financial resources.) Those are the
negatives that may be driving later retirements.
There are also positives. People in white-collar
work environments may want to remain, perhaps at less intensity (part-time) to
maintain social networks at work, as well as for the extra income. They may
find considerable satisfaction in their work too, as does this blogger. Those
trends may not occur in many physically demanding blue-collar work
environments: think coal mining, where most everyone retires as early as possible
(age 62 in the United States).
So, our work force is going to be increasingly
older. So, an interesting question is: how are we preparing to support an
aging work force? There are some predictable age-related trends that show little sign
of changing, such as decreasing perceptual, cognitive, and psychomotor
abilities with increased age. Countering negative trends in many
abilities as people age is the increase in knowledge that people continue to
acquire until quite late in life.
Obsolescence is probably more of a threat to older worker productivity
than loss in abilities. Given the need
to maintain productivity (which has slowed in recent years), we now need to
contemplate how to keep all age groups up to date and well-equipped to enhance
work force productivity.
There are still biases against training and promoting older workers,
though the literature suggests that an economic case can be made for training older workers.
Training and retraining methods best-suited for older workers are not yet clear
cut, at least on the research evidence front, though there are some useful
resources that provide guidelines.
So, we have some interesting challenges, particularly
the desire of Baby Boom workers to stay employed longer, yet we need to allow
for those in physically demanding settings or those in poor health to retire
earlier and with true social security.
Can we take advantage of the knowledge that older workers have acquired
over their increasingly lengthy careers (perhaps through mentor roles)? How can
we best compensate for any ability losses (through work-place redesign) and for
obsolescence (with new training)? Now is the time for all of us to get to
work on this issue.
Neil Charness, Ph.D., is the William
G. Chase Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and director of
the Institute for Successful Longevity.
By Jasminka Z. Ilich-Ernst
Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences
The triad of bone, muscle
and fat tissue deregulation
Recently, a new syndrome was identified and termed osteosarcopenic
obesity (OSO), signifying the impairment of bone, muscle and adipose
tissues as an ultimate consequence of aging. OSO may also develop due to the initiating
presence of overweight/obesity perpetuated by low-grade chronic inflammation,
as well as to inadequate diet and lifestyle.
Additionally, some chronic
conditions, like cancers, diabetes and other diseases that cause endocrine
imbalance and stem cell lineage disruption may also cause OSO. Although the
tight connection between bone and muscle has been recognized and addressed in
recent years, the inclusion of fat tissue, either as an overt obesity, or as an
age-induced redistribution of fat, or as an infiltrated fat into bone and
muscle, is just beginning to gain more attention within the context of bone and
muscle impairments. We realize now that obesity (once
thought to be protective of bone and muscle), is increasingly linked to
deterioration of these tissues, especially with aging. Therefore, other new terms; osteopenic
obesity and sarcopenic obesity, resulting
from increased overall body fat and/or fat infiltration into bone and muscle, leading
to lower bone and muscle mass, quality, and possibly increased frailty, need to be taken into
consideration as well.
Currently, there are no estimates about
the number/percentage of older adults suffering from the combined condition of
OSO and some preliminary criteria to diagnose it are just being developed. However,
at least 54 million Americans currently have osteopenia and/or osteoporosis and
one in two American women will experience a bone fracture. Additionally, about
5-13% of adults >65 years old and ~50% of adults >80 years old have
sarcopenia. Ironically, hip or any other osteoporotic fracture accelerates the
onset of sarcopenia in older adults; and sarcopenia, which impairs overall
physical function, increases the risk of falls and fractures. One of the most
common health problems in the osteosarcopenic obese population is increased
risk of falls and fractures. Fall-related injuries are one of the major causes
of mortality and morbidity among the elderly. These injuries could have a
significant impact on health-related costs and quality of life. In 2014, one
third of fall- related deaths were attributable to osteoporosis and/or
economic impact of third component of OSO (overweight/obesity) is especially
manifested in healthcare costs and long-term loss of productivity. The annual
medical costs for an obese individual are on average $1,429 higher than that of
a normal-weight healthy individual. The recent rise in the prevalence of
obesity is associated with comorbidities such as type II diabetes mellitus,
hypertension, hyperlipidemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma,
obstructive sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, renal failure, cancer and others.
Aside from all of these complications, obesity has been associated with a 6 to
20-year loss in life expectancy.
chronic disease, drug therapy, genetic predisposition and environmental factors
are the main determinants in the etiology of OSO, lifestyle factors such as
dietary patterns and physical activity are important as well. The latter two
play a substantial role in metabolic homeostasis, determining to what extent an
individual is able to preserve bone mass, muscle mass, and overall function,
while still preserving an optimal body weight or reducing obesity with age.
Nutrition: Although American
adults consume more food and total energy than people of many other cultures
worldwide, evidence points to increased malnutrition risk with age and a link
between the so called “Western-type Diet” and development of chronic disease,
including bone, muscle and fat tissue disorders. Older adults in the United
States are potentially at nutritional risk due to three main factors: increased
consumption of high-energy and low-nutrient-density types of food; inadequate
dietary fiber consumption; and decreased ability to absorb or utilize some essential
nutrients with age. The Western Diet being heavily based on processed food,
provides increased energy but decreased amount of many essential nutrients, and
promotes deregulation of major systems in the body. A typically low dietary
fiber intake in older adults is associated with insulin resistance and
increased inflammation, especially in the obese. Western diet is also
characterized by the high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty
acids (the latter being eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid
(DHA)), which contributes to low-grade chronic inflammation and
other unfavorable physiological outcomes. Besides the relatively unwholesome
diet, older adults often consume less nutrients secondary to decreased
appetite, side effects from medications, dementia or a desire for weight loss. Particularly
affected nutrients are protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, all needed to
maintain and build bone and muscle. Additionally, dietary absorption of most of
vitamins and minerals is also decreased, making it harder for the body to
utilize them from the food consumed.
The combination of low protein, high simple
carbohydrates, deficiencies of calcium, magnesium and potassium and excess of phosphorus,
sodium and iron may be associated with lower bone mass, sarcopenia and obesity,
and therefore OSO syndrome. Overall the nutrient composition of the Western
Diet, distribution and amounts, for both macro and micro nutrients may not
promote healthy aging and may be contributing to the development of OSO
Physical activity: In
general, physical activity is needed for maintenance and improvement of all
components of body composition, as well as the physiological and mental health
in people of all ages. Specifically for the OSO syndrome, physical activity,
even in the form of low intensity or habitual activity, is needed to maintain
or improve bone health, muscle strength and quality, improve balance, and
reduce adiposity and inflammation, with aging. A comprehensive exercise program
for older adults includes aerobic, strength, flexibility, and balance training
and could reduce risk for falls, increase functional ability, and improve
quality of life. However, recent findings show that although resistance training
may increase lean (muscle) mass and weight bearing exercise may result in a
reduction of the rate of bone loss (rather than in a significant increase in
bone mass), the best exercise is what an older person is able to do. Aside from
some medium to high-impact activities, habitual and low-impact physical
activity including heavy housework,
gardening, do-it-yourself activities, recreational activities and walking have
been shown to be beneficial for bone, muscle and overall endurance.
Other alternative exercises such as Tai
Chi, Yoga, and Pilates, could be used to support body composition and prevent
bone loss and, as it has been shown, these exercises are associated with increased
quality of life of older individuals. Overall, older adults may require special
considerations such as tailoring progression of exercise intensity and
beginning at a lower intensity. However, any type of immobilization, even
during illness, should be avoided as much as possible in order for the proper
maintenance of bone, muscle and fat tissues.
and overall recommendations
OSO syndrome is
a multifactorial condition of age-related changes in body composition including
bone loss and muscle loss combined with increased adiposity. This complex
condition of aging may be aggravated by poor nutrition, lack of physical
activity and chronic disease. Treatment for OSO syndrome or its management may
require the combination of healthy/optimal nutrition and different modes of
physical activity. For the best prevention, efforts should be made to achieve
peak bone mass before the age of 30, to gain/maintain muscle mass for all age
groups and maintain healthy weight. As discussed above, nutritional interventions
include: consumption of foods with high and good quality protein (eggs, fish,
meat, dairy) adequate energy intake (to maintain healthy weight), adequate calcium,
magnesium and vitamin D intake (dairy foods), consumption of food rich in EPA
and DHA (omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids; as found in flaxseed oil, fish oil,
walnuts, soybeans). Moreover, physical activity including strength
training and aerobic exercise supports the maintenance of bone and skeletal
muscle mass and thus attenuates osteopenia/osteoporosis as well as sarcopenia
and may maintain weight. However, habitual daily activity as well as some alternative
types of exercise (Yoga, Pilates) may be more acceptable in older individuals
and thus better suited for the prevention and management of OSO syndrome.