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March 01
‘You Can’t Be Afraid of the Tech’


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 decades. 

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:


February 27
Pursuing the truth about cats and dogs ... and older individuals

Natalie Sachs-Ericsson (l) and Dawn Carr (r) with Journey the dog
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 well-being.”


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 health.


The data in the Health and Retirement Survey may provide answers.


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 older adults.
  • 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 health.

“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.



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 caregiving.


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 Germany.


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 and suicide.

February 12
Why is There an Age Digital Divide and When Will It End?

Older Tech Use-iPhone-2.jpg

By Neil Charness

Director, Institute 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 same.  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?

Neil Charness-2015.jpgFor 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 difficulties arise.

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.

January 05
Evacuating and Sheltering Older Adults: Lessons to Be Learned


By Eren Erman Ozguven, Ph.D.

FAMU-FSU 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? ErenOzguven.jpg

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.

Such lessons 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.

As such, 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.

 Our recent 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 al., 2016).

 In addition, 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.

Eren 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 Longevity.

October 25
Irma and the future of Aging Services in Florida

Welcome to Florida.png

Larry Polivka, Ph.D., director, Pepper Center

Anne Barrett, Ph.D., director, Pepper Institute on Aging & Public Policy and professor of sociology


Hurricane 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.

Polivka and Barrett.png
But 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.


Florida 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. 


Further 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.


Policymakers 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.

Florida 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.


A 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.

July 14


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 smoking!


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 involvement.


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 becoming widowed.


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.


June 23
FSU, an Age-Friendly University

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 Longevity
William 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 research programs.

§  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 participation.

§  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 activities.

§  To engage actively with the university’s own retired community.

§  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 the participant registry. FSU is famous for its arts and cultural programs and provides many free (e.g., student recital) events to the community.


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 commitment.


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.




May 30
Increase in memory complaints in older adults: Does it reflect age-related memory decline and/or something else?

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:, 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 change in Jong-Sung Yoon.jpg

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 memory changes.

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 [1]. 

The type of memory complaints, depressive symptoms, and cognitive factors

However, many 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 memory [2]. 

To address 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) [3]. 

The 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?). 

Recent study shows that the associations between memory complaints and depressive symptoms can vary with the specific type of memory complaints measured by the MFQ [4].  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 symptoms. 

Interestingly, a pattern of relationships between cognitive factors and memory complaints also varies with the type of MFQ measure. In the same study [4], 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

Understanding how 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 frequent forgetting.

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.



[1] 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.

[2] Pearman, 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.

[3] 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.

[4] Yoon, 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.


March 30
Longer working years?

Working Longer - Paterson_NJ _An_old_silk-worker_(now_unable_to_work)_living_on_earnings_of_a_roomer - SMALLER.jpg
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.

By Neil Charness, Ph.D.

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 sour. 

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 for extended 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.

December 01
Osteosarcopenic obesity as a new syndrome in elderly: What are the prevention and management challenges?


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.

Illich-Ernst Photo.jpeg

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 sarcopenia.

The 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.


            Although 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 syndrome.

            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.

Conclusions 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.


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