Dr. Rachel Pruchno’s aging study examines successful aging

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Rachel Pruchno led the research study on subjective-successful aging, along with Oranj Bowl, a group of scientists and researchers. - Photo via Rowan University

A new research study published in October by Dr. Rachel Pruchno, Director of Research for the Rowan-Virtua New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging (NJISA), demonstrates that people with a better outlook on life will likely live longer. The research study, which was published in The Gerontologist, a scientific journal, examined the relationship between the subjective successful aging of adults ages 50-74 and their risk for mortality rates within nine years. 

The idea of successful aging has commonly been perceived as having good physical health, good functional ability, being able to work, move around, and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships. However, what is studied here is the idea of subjective-successful aging (SSA). This subject is a bit different because it is more about the self-evaluation of adults on their reflection of their own aging process, and how they compare themselves to other peers their age. 

Dr. Pruchno worked heavily in the team, Oranj Bowl, where a panel of scientists understood how characteristics of people and of the environment promote successful aging. 

The study was first conducted in Nov 2006, where the panel cold-called adults in New Jersey from ages 50-74, and also ones who were able to participate in a one-hour English language interview. The recruitment process lasted almost two years, from Nov 2006 through April 2008. It involved a total of 5,483 adults. 

In this interview process, Dr. Pruchno made sure to ask three questions, which adults would answer by rating their aging process on a ten-point scale. 

“We now knew about their physical health, their emotional well-being, their health behaviors. Now we know a lot of stuff about these people,” said Dr. Pruchno. “Then what happened over the course of my career for the next 15 years or so we went back to these people, and we re-interviewed them.” 

Dr. Pruchno’s team was able to find that each time an adult rated their experiences higher, it decreased the risk of mortality by three percent. Adults who rated their SSA lower, had a 45% chance of dying, whereas those who had a higher rate of SSA, had a ten-person chance. 

The study sought out to answer the question, does knowing how they rate their SSA when they were first interviewed predict who would live and who would not live within the next nine years? 

One of the things Dr. Pruchno’s research team had to do was factor in what they already knew killed people like illnesses, how those with lower income are more likely to die, and gender, how men are more likely to die first than women. With all these factors included, plus the responses from the adults, they realized in their findings that it is important to see how one perceives their aging experience because it will predict how much longer one will live.  

Dr. Pruchno and her colleagues worked extensively to get every response, made sure to come back to every adult interviewed in the study, and worked on creating an article that examined their results, discussions, methods, and implications. She explained what brought her to study SSA. 

“I was just really interested in the indication of how powerfully important perceptions can be and as a psychologist, I found that fascinating,” said Dr. Pruchno. “I mean, the fact that this perception that was measured in 2006 predicts death within nine years, it’s very powerful. It made me want to know what’s guiding this perception?” 

For the re-interview process, she noted that she and her team went back to 50 adults from the first interview and asked them questions seven times over 15 years. Dr. Pruchno saw that talking to these adults who had higher rates of SSA, all had several things in common such as more gratitude, and acceptance. For her, it helped her understand how perception is important in identifying how the idea of successful aging is different for everyone, and that there is no one way to categorize how to successfully age. 

Rowan University releases many types of research all kinds, studied by doctors, scientists, and many more faculty members of Rowan. Highlighting the importance of these studies, gives insight into the latest of Rowan’s discoveries, whether that is within technology, education, and science.

Alanna Gutchigian, the Program Coordinator for the Rowan-Viruta School of Osteopathic Medicine, shares that there is a process on how to pick which research studies are suitable for a news release. 

“The decision on which study to include in a news release depends on its newsworthiness and potential to enhance health and wellness. Studies with results that can benefit a wide audience, like an early diagnostic blood test for Alzheimer’s or a cancer drug are usually prioritized,” said Gutchigan. “The frequency of news releases varies, but the key is selecting studies that have universal appeal or address significant health issues.” 

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