Susan Charles, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior and nursing science

Susan Charles, colleagues get grant to study link between social interaction, health in seniors

Susan Charles, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior and nursing science, is part of a team of researchers recently awarded $2.4 million from the National Institute on Aging to study how social interaction improves the health of older adults. Participants will use wearable electronic devices and cellphone apps to monitor their physical activity and social interactions in real time for several days. Research has suggested that people with stronger social networks live longer and with better health than those who are more isolated in old age. Charles and her colleagues are seeking to learn why social engagement mitigates potential cognitive and physical declines in late life and improves well-being. Past research on the links between social interaction and health has been largely based on people’s self-reported physical activity, cognitive activity and social interactions. Because self-reporting is often flawed, this study will compare self-evaluations with measures of physical, social and cognitive activity tracked by devices. It will involve about 300 people over the age of 65 of diverse ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. The study is expected to provide important insights for doctors, caregivers and families to best facilitate positive health-related behaviors in the daily lives of older adults. Charles’ colleagues in the project are Karen Fingerman, Debra Umberson and David Schnyer of the University of Texas at Austin and Kira Birditt of the University of Michigan.