HCN News & Notes

Researcher Finds Attitude Is Greatest Factor in Elder Wellness

SPRINGFIELD — Aging brings with it a host of physical and environmental risks that threaten our wellness, from chronic disease to an inability to be as active as you once were. However, a recent study shows that one factor stands out as the key determinant in being well in your later years: How happy you are.

UMass doctoral student and O’Connell Care at Home nurse Sheila Pennell, released her findings in her January dissertation, entitled A Path Analysis of the Maintaining the Balance Model. Pennell conducted her research under the direction of UMass Nursing Professor Cynthia Jacelon, whose Maintaining the Balance (MTB) model defines five variables considered to be factors in optimal wellness for older adults living at home.

“In particular, we were looking at the effects of health, activity, autonomy, attitude, and relationship for older adults, to better understand how these factors interplay to create wellness,” said Pennell. “Ultimately, we wanted to understand how older adults balance health and autonomy to maintain their wellness at home.”

Attitude proved to be the most important factor by far. “More than chronic diseases, more than who is helping you at home, keeping people happy is the most important factor in overall wellness,” said Pennell.

While Pennell readily admits that the findings of her study were surprising, she also noted their relevance to her day-to-day work as a nurse at the Springfield-based homecare agency, O’Connell Care at Home. “Our focus is on connecting to our clients as people — discovering what they like and keeping them happy,” she said. “What we’ve discovered is that when people experience quality in their life and have positive experiences, they can live quite a bit longer as a result.”

Pennell underscored that the future implications of her work with Jacelon could be significant. “This will fuel future research to enhance self-management in the home,” she said, noting that the number of older adults who are able to stay in their homes with supportive care is rapidly growing. Jacelon is currently developing a tablet app that will assist older adults with self-management, and could be utilized by caregivers and end users alike.