AgeLab researchers Samantha Brady, Lisa D'Ambrosio, PhD, Julie Miller, Martina Raue, PhD, and Carley Ward comprised a full panel of research presentations at the Gerontological Society of America Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Titled "Successful Aging at 85 and Over: Lessons Learned from the MIT AgeLab Lifestyle Leaders," the panel leveraged findings from the 85-plus Lifestyle Leaders Panel to illuminate the attitudes and experiences of individuals ages 85 and beyond, the fastest-growing age cohort in the United States.
Julie Miller chaired the panel, which included three presentations followed by a question and answer period. Dr. Raue presented on the role of social connections, activities and rituals in creating meaning for older adults throughout the lifespan and in moments of transition. The Lifestyle Leaders are a well-educated and active group that knows how to combat loneliness by being actively involved in the community and finding activities and peers with whom to socialize. Communication technologies were identified as indispensable to them as ways to remain connected to their loved ones. Learning and helping others were among the most-mentioned sources of meaning and purpose, while “doing what you love” grew as a prioritized source of meaning as participants have aged.
Samantha Brady talked about the relationships between health, disability, and fitness among the oldest-old. Her presentation discussed the perceived benefits, related behaviors, and barriers to exercise and physical fitness for the Lifestyle Leaders and explored how their exercise behaviors have changed over time. She also examined changes in hearing the Lifestyle Leaders have experienced, how these changes have affected them, and their reactions to technologies that might mitigate hearing loss.
Carley Ward explored the transportation and housing adaptations the Lifestyle Leaders have made to continue aging successfully. Regarding transportation, participants expressed friction, frustration and fatigue related to the lack of choice and control over transportation options. Regarding housing, approximately half of the Lifestyle leaders had moved within the past ten years in order to receive care for their spouse, to live in a place better suited for their lifestyle, to be closer to family, or to save money.
In addition to moderating the panel on the Lifestyle Leaders, Dr. D'Ambrosio also presented separately on the relationship between cognitive function and decision-making among older adults. Financial fraud and exploitation were highlighted as a particular problem faced by older adults, who, research shows, become more credulous, more trusting, and more generous with age.