Just hearing the word sends a jolt through us as we scramble to meet deadlines, pay the bills and face a host of other challenges. Many of us think we’ll be less stressed out in our golden years.
But is that the case? Graduate student Thalia Semplonius is aiming to find out.
Semplonius is seeking people 60 years and older to answer a range of questions that measure their sense of well-being.
“We want to know how they’re dealing with stress, and how social activities might help them manage stress,” says Semplonius. “What’s making them stressed? What’s making them happy?”
But there’s a twist to her research: Semplonius is using a similar questionnaire that a long-running Brock University study is using to examine stress levels and well-being in Brock undergraduate students.
She plans to examine similarities and differences in the questionnaire results of the young and older adult groups.
Comparing what promotes health and well-being in young and older adults gives us important clues about how we can develop well-being as we age, says Semplonius.
One of these well-being factors is emotion regulation. This is where we manage our emotions in healthy ways so that we don’t act destructively or impulsively when under stress.
“For example, emotion regulation is thought to improve with age, but few direct comparisons of emotion regulation have been made between these two age groups,” she explains. “This is important because aging often is seen as a time of decline, and this may not be true in some domains, especially for the young-old who are very active.”
Another unique feature of the research is that Semplonius aims to make this a “longitudinal study,” meaning that the same people who answer the questionnaire now can do so next year and in subsequent years. Student participants in the Brock study, for instance, have been filling out the questionnaire for six years now.
A longitudinal approach helps researchers see trends and changes over time, explains psychology professor Teena Willoughby, who is supervising Semplonius’ research.
“The longitudinal nature of this study will be critical in increasing our understanding of how well-being, stress, and emotion regulation strategies change over time and across age, and will help identify key activities that might support positive adjustment,” says Willoughby.
This approach can also help to shed light on the “chicken-or-the-egg” question: does well-being lead to better emotion regulation strategies over time? Or does the development of emotion regulation strategies lead to happiness and well-being over time?
“I’m expecting that the older adults will show fairly positive emotion regulation strategies and well-being,” she says. “Young adults are still developing these emotion-regulatory skills whereas adults who are older may already have these skills in place.”
Beyond the comparison aspect of the research, knowing more about what promotes wellbeing in older adults and how they handle stress can lead to better programing and better initiatives for Niagara’s older adults, which is particularly important as Niagara recently started its Age-Friendly Community Initiative,” says Semplonius.
The well-being questionnaire can be completed either online or with a paper/pencil method. For those who complete the questionnaire on paper, the survey and consent forms simply can be mailed back with the provided stamped and addressed envelopes.
People 60 years of age and older who wish to participate in the study can contact Thalia Semplonius at: firstname.lastname@example.org