Studying Relationships Between Older Adults and Their Parents Living With Dementia

Kathrin BoernerRelationships between senior children and their very old parents can be complicated enough. How does those relationships change when the parent is living with dementia?

UMass Boston Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner has spent two years studying the relationships between older adults and their parents, an increasingly common phenomena involving people in their 60’s and 70’s with parents living well into their 90’s. The ongoing project has already attracted broad interest and media coverage in The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

The study’s original design, funded by the National Institute on Aging, was based exclusively on interviews with senior children and their parents together. But researchers found they had to turn away a significant number of volunteering senior children whose parents, living with dementia, could not be interviewed. They were missing an important part of the story. Continue reading

Gerontology Associate Professor Kathrin Boerner: Dealing with Grief After Death


UMass Boston Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner has spent much of her career researching a wide range of end-of-life issues. She was recently interviewed by MyRoche, a publication of the global health care company Roche Holding AG, about her work. The following transcript of the interview with MyRoche editor-in-chief Rebekka Schnell was first published in January.

Q: Why are you so focused on death?

 Kathrin Boerner:  Many people do indeed ask me about my concern with such depressing matters. But I don’t see it like that at all. I work on a topic that affects everyone, and that’s what makes it so relevant. What is more, it is fantastic to see the capacity people have to cope with terri­ble loss, and to help those who aren’t doing so well. Continue reading

The Aging Paradox: A Look at Later-Life Satisfaction Through the Eyes of OLLI Members

Olli members

Clockwise from top left, OLLI members Mary Doller, Al May, Jean Hunt and Steve Vorenberg.

By Caitlin Connelly

A good paradox can turn the obvious on its head.

That’s a fair way to describe the aging paradox, a concept well-known to gerontologists that challenges presumptions about the way people feel as they grow older. True, there may be many forms of loss or limitation that come with older age. But there is also empirical evidence that shows people actually experience a greater level of life satisfaction as they grow older.

In the process of living to an older age, transitions often become more than a simple shift from work to retirement and bring people to a more peaceful frame of mind, according to Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston.

“Older adults often arrive at this point where they feel like they’ve experienced a lot but they’ve also learned a lot from the experience,” said Boerner.

Those transitions can be driven by conventional forces of work and family. But the kind of older-life satisfaction described by the aging paradox is often rooted other kinds of experiences. “People get to that point from very different trajectories,” said Boerner.

The Gerontology Institute Blog asked members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston to describe their transition into the earlier stages of older life and how they felt about it. Their responses illustrate just how different those trajectories can be. Continue reading

Study Investigates the Challenge of Documenting End-of-Life Preferences

Detailed instructions reflecting the wishes of people facing serious advancing illness offer family and health care providers valuable guidance for end-of-life care.

But the basic process of collecting that information—from the design of standardized forms to procedures used to complete them—varies greatly from state to state and at individual health care settings. Those operational details can have a dramatic impact on the quality of information collected and the usefulness of the instructions themselves.

Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School, used detailed interviews with team members at 2 Massachusetts nursing homes to study policy and practice associated with gathering information about end-of-life care wishes. Boerner, along with UMass Boston assistant sociology professor Jason Rodriquez and 2 other co-authors, recently published their findings in the journal Geriatric Nursing. Continue reading