Written by Paresa Chowdhury, DPM candidate at Rosalind Franklin University and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program
This summer, I am continuing my fruitful experience as an undergraduate researcher in the summer program’s Aging & Neurological Diseases Track. I have been working with Dr. Patrick Hill and his graduate student, Megan Wilson, in the PATH Lab. The PATH Lab works to address healthy aging by using an interdisciplinary approach to direct attention to purposefulness in aging adults. According to Pfund and Lewis’s 2020 study, purposefulness is the overarching construct that encompasses all the smaller obtainable goals in an individual’s life. Two main aspects of purpose are a sense of purpose, which is the degree to which a person perceives their life to have directions and goals, and purpose in life, which are the specific goals and directions. Regardless of age or developmental state, research finds that higher levels of purpose consistently predict better physical, mental, and emotional outcomes in health (Pfund & Lewis, 2020).
Evidence also suggests that ageism continues to be prevalent in the workplace. Ageism refers to the systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against others or oneself based on their age (World Health Organization, 2021). Unfortunately, there has been growing evidence of discrimination against older workers in terms of higher verdicts against employers (Postuma & Campion, 2009). This can be very detrimental to aging adults, who provide a valuable contribution to the workplace environment. I am interested in this topic because I realized how ubiquitous ageism is in our society, yet so overlooked. We fail to acknowledge the issues that come with discriminating and holding prejudice against ourselves and others based on age both intentionally and subconsciously. Since we predict that there is negative relationship between sense of purpose and discrimination against older adults, Dr. Hill, Megan, and I are developing a Qualtrics survey to determine whether we can manipulate purpose to reduce discrimination against older adults.
Alongside my research, my cohort and I watched a documentary in our seminar called Fast Forward. The documentary shows four families and their older family members undergoing a simulated aging experience to help understand how to cope with certain physiological changes and impairments caused during aging. This experience was very emotional for some of the families, and I can understand why; when I was volunteering for an art therapy program in high school, I also underwent a dementia virtual reality simulation at the Chicago Senior Methodist Services. I was given mittens and sunglasses to impair my sense of touch and eyesight. I wore spiky socks that resembled constant tingling in the soles of my feet. Additionally, I put on headphones with static noises to resemble hearing difficulties. This activity provided some insight into how physically, psychologically, and emotionally difficult it can be for aging adults with dementia to complete normal, everyday tasks. Similarly in class, we engaged in empathetic exercises during our seminar with sunglasses, Tic Tacs, and gloves to see how they impacted our five senses. The Fast Forward documentary, empathetic exercises, and research only reinforce how important it is for us to address healthy aging as we move forward with our lives.