Research Reviews on Healthy Aging

This section provides reviews of evidence-based research promoting health and wellbeing in older adults. The information has been reviewed by students of health professions, and is from established peer-reviewed academic journals. Having accurate information can help you make informed decisions about healthy aging.

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Welcome to the Research Review Archive!

Reviews in this section are categorized by the six dimensions of wellness: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and emotional wellness. The topics range from fall prevention and Tai Chi to the health benefits of volunteering. If you are interested in reading the full version of the articles mentioned in this section, please visit Dominican's Alemany Library.

Occupational Wellness

Modifying your home decreases falling

Key Finding: Older adults can help prevent falls by exercising and modifying their homes.  

This study reviewed 33 intervention-based research studies that focused on factors that prevent falls in the home. Occupational therapists assisted in home assessments in each of the studies. Occupational therapists provided home modification suggestions to older adults to prevent potential falls from occurring. The participants were taught fall prevention techniques which heightened their confidence in their own functional mobility. New exercise techniques to help prevent falls were also taught. The best results for fall prevention were in the areas of modifying the home environment and keeping physically fit. Some ways to prevent falls are taking out floor rugs, using non-slip rubber mats in the bathtub, and having brighter lighting in hard to see areas.

Chase, C. A., Mann, K., Wasek, S., & Arbesman, M. (2012). Systematic review of the effect of home modification and fall prevention programs on falls and the performance of community-dwelling older adults. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, 284–291.

Sleep optimizes motor skills in older adults

Key Finding: Having a good night’s rest increases your ability to be more physically active.

This study looked at 16 healthy older adults and 15 healthy young adults to determine whether sleep improves motor memory. The older adult participants were given a motor test three times after 12 hours of being awake during the daytime. The results showed that the participants had a significant decrease in motor performance. When the same older adult participants were retested 24 hours later, after a day of being awake and then given a night of sleep, they had a 17.4% increase in motor skills. The younger participants, who also did the same test, had an increase of 17.3%. The results imply that sleep improves motor functioning for people of all ages.

Tucker, M., McKinley, S., & Stickgold, R. (2011). Sleep optimizes motor skill in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 59, 603-609. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03324.x

Physical Wellness

Developing a routine helps older adults remember to take medication

Key Finding: Older adults could benefit from placing their medication at easily visible and reachable locations such as in the bathroom counter, kitchen counter, or nightstand.

The study of 149 community-dwelling older adults examined ways they took their medication. The study found that when participants established routines to take medicine during meals, when they woke up and before they went to bed, or placed  medication in areas where they would most likely see them were more likely to take their medication properly. Some participants also used inexpensive low technology such as pillboxes with an embedded alarm or re-wrote  labels with larger fonts on the medicine bottles.

Sanders, M. J., & Van Oss, T. (2013). Using daily routines to promote medication adherence in older adults. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67, 91–99.

Using the Wii Fit improves balance in older adults

Key Finding: Older adults can benefit from doing exercises on the Wii Fit.

This study found that Nintendo Wii Fit use improved balance for a group of older adults ages 53 to 91 years old. The 17 participants were divided into three groups. For four weeks, one group exercised only using the Wii Fit, the second group had training with physical therapy and the Wii Fit, and the third group only had physical therapy. After four weeks, balance assessments were done to look for improvements. The study found that the group that did physical therapy and the Wii Fit and the group that only did physical therapy had better balance results than the group that did exercises with the Wii Fit alone. However, in all groups, there was a significant difference in balance improvement. 

Bateni, H. (2011). Changes in balance in older adults based on use of physical therapy vs the wii fit gaming system: a preliminary study. Physiotherapy, 98, 211-216. doi:10.1016/

Monitoring devices for older adults help maintain health

Key Finding: Monitoring devices are beneficial for older adults who want to live independently in their home with access to reliable and professional help.

This study analyzed 162 previously completed studies that reviewed the use of monitoring technology in older adults. The monitoring technology was described as a variety of wearable medical alert systems that could detect changes in an individual’s movements or have a button for the individual to press that alerts an operator of a distress. The types of monitoring devices included personal alarm devices, fall detection devices, and activity monitoring devices worn around an individual’s neck. Because most of the monitoring devices were compact and wearable, the devices did not compromise the older adult’s body movements and mobility freedom. Monitoring devices could potentially assist an older adult when a fall happens, especially if the individual lives alone.

Wagner, F., Basran., J., & Dal Bello-Haas, V.  (2012). A review of monitoring technology for use with older adults. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, 35(1), 28-34.

Social Wellness

Virtual volunteering increases a sense of belonging in older adults

Key Finding: Virtual volunteering helps older adults with mobility issues or other physical impairments to socially participate in activities.

This 2010 qualitative study found that the internet has helped many older adults take an active participation role in volunteering through a virtual context. As more Baby Boomers are becoming internet savvy, opportunities to volunteer have gone into the virtual realm. Twenty-two older virtual volunteers from the United States were interviewed. Of the 22 participants, 44% reported having a chronic illness which limited their physical mobility. Because of this, the participants chose to volunteer online. Some of the activities participants volunteered for were writing annual reports, drafting grant proposals, or being a webmaster for a non-profit organization. These activities give older adults an opportunity to provide meaningful volunteer experiences. The study found that the older adults who participated in virtual volunteering had an increased sense of belonging compared with older adults who did not volunteer.

Mukherjee, D. (2011). Participation of older adults in virtual volunteering: A qualitative analysis. Aging Journal International, 36, 253-266. doi: 10.1007/s12126-010-0988-6

Older adults who socialize in their neighborhood have improved health outcomes

Key Finding: Joining the local community or senior center to participate in activities may improve your health.

This 2008 Canadian study focused on the social participation of older adults in Montreal, Quebec. With the 282 participants, the study found that those who visited family members, attended activities at the local community center, and engaged in a hobby outside of their home were more likely to be in good health than those who did not. The study also found that almost half of the older adults in the study were involved in some form of volunteer work at least once a week or every day.

Richard, L., Gauvin, L., Gosselin, C., & Laforest, S. (2008). Staying connected: neighborhood correlates of social participation among older adults living in an urban environment in Montreal, Quebec. Health Promotion International, 24(1),46-57. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dan039


Intellectual Wellness

Tai Chi exercise may increase brain function

Key Finding: Doing Tai Chi exercises can improve memory and attention. 

This cross-sectional study from Hong Kong, China focused on the cognitive benefits of Tai Chi for older adults. Tai Chi is a type of slow movement Chinese martial art form that is practiced for defense training, but also for its potential health benefits. This study reviewed three different groups of adults ages 60 and older. One group consisted of 42 participants from various Tai Chi clubs. Another group consisted of 49 participants recruited from community centers that had regular exercising habits. The third group consisted of 44 participants from local senior centers who did not exercise. The slow movements of Tai Chi may provide older adults with a slow movement exercise that is easy on their joints, promote balance, and the potential to increase brain function. It may be beneficial for older adults to practice Tai Chi as a form of exercise.

Man, D.W., Tsang, W.W., & Hui-Chan, C.W. (2010). Do older T’ai Chi practitioners have better attention and memory function? The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16 (12), 1259-1264. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0462

Learning to play the piano may help prevent cognitive decline

Key Finding: Learning how to play a musical instrument may increase attention and prevent memory loss.

In this study, 31 older adults with no prior piano experience were taught how to play the piano during individualized piano sessions. Half of the group were given piano lessons and the other half were not. The older adults attended 30 minute individualized piano sessions and practiced three hours on their own each week for three months. During the lessons, the participants learned various piano exercises from two basic piano course books. Each week they were taught new piano pieces. After 6 months, the results suggested that learning how to play the piano may increase attention and concentration in older adults, helping deter cognitive decline.

Bugos, J.A., Perlstein, W.M., McCrae, C.S., Brophy, T.S., & Bedenbaugh, P.H. (2007). Individualized piano instruction enhances executive functioning and working memory in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 11(4), 464-471. doi:10.1080/1307860601086504

Spiritual & Emotional Wellness

Listening to relaxing music increases mental well-being

Key Finding: Listening to calming music is an inexpensive and helpful way of relaxing and developing a positive frame of mind.

An 11 month randomized controlled study in Singapore examined whether listening to music would reduce symptoms of sadness among older adults. In the study, 50 older adults were divided equally into two groups. One group was given the option to listen to a variety of slow rhythmic music of their choice for 30 minutes a week for eight weeks, while second group did not listen to any music. The older adults listened to a selection of what was considered calming music through other previous studies. The music consisted of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western music. The music that was offered to the participants was chosen based on the characteristics of the beats in the songs, which had been shown to promote relaxation and lowered anxiety.  A depression assessment was used to determine that participants who had listened to the calming music had a decrease in their levels of sadness. 

Chan, M.F., Wong, Z.Y., Onishi, H., & Thayala, N.V. (2011). Effects of music on depression in older people: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 21, 776-783. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03954.x

Having personal strength and religiosity helps older adults who are grieving over a loss

Key Finding: Having a social support system of family, friends, support groups, or having a form of spirituality could help with the loss of a loved one.

A 2011 four year longitudinal study was done on 101 older adults who recently experienced a loss of a spouse. In the study, those who found meaning in the death and or had practiced some form of religion to gain personal strength did better than those in the study that did not. Participants who coped well had found meaning in death and had a positive outlook in life. The participants viewed the time after their spouse’s death as a period for emotional “recovery”. Those who had supportive social circles of family and friends that attended to their emotional and social needs demonstrated a stronger ability to cope.

Kim, S.H., Kjervik, D., Belyea, M. & Choi, E.S. (2011). Personal strength and finding meaning in conjugally bereaved older adults: A four-year study prospective analysis. Death Studies, 35, 197-218. doi: 10.1080/07481187.2010.518425


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