Boston College School of Social Work Associate Professor Christina Matz only had to look within her own family to realize the problems facing older adults—and be motivated to do something about it.
While she was in college, her grandfather died, after having spent practically all of his adult life as a greenhouse owner and wholesale plant and flower distributor. When Matz came home for the summer, she found her grandmother had deteriorated, becoming less active, more isolated and insular; less than a year later, she died.
“We need to drastically rethink how we view older generations, and what resources and opportunities can help them thrive and be active in their communities.”
She also collaborated with BCSSW colleague Associate Professor Rocio Calvo in a study that examined older adults’ levels of happiness and life satisfaction; the team found that immigrants, especially Hispanic, who had lived in the U.S. for an average of 30 years were more likely to report high levels of happiness and life satisfaction than their native-born counterparts.
Another research project in which Matz participated sought to determine the effect of volunteerism on older adults who had lost a spouse. The results showed those who had been widowed were able to reduce feelings of loneliness by volunteering 100 hours per year (approximately two hours a week). Matz and her colleagues received a Mather Lifeways Institute on Aging Award for the study.
In a similar vein, Matz was part of a team that researched older adults’ use of mobile phone: Their findings revealed that those using mobile phones for sociability tended to feel less loneliness—especially where associated with increased face-to-face interaction—in contrast to those who utilized them for entertainment or passing the time, and had less face-to-face interaction.
Matz’s activities also have involved outreach. This semester, she and Associate Professor of Sociology Sara Moorman organized campus events to celebrate “Careers in Aging Week,” including talks on social inequality in later life; current research and practices involving brain health for older adults; and the grassroots “Dementia Friend” movement that aids community members living with dementia.
On still another front—with applications that go beyond her specific area of research—Matz is seeking to increase skill literacy for MSW students who lack training in research methods and statistics. Supported by an Academic Technology Innovation Grant, she is utilizing ecological momentary assessment (EMA), which relies on collecting data in real time and in natural settings; through EMA, the students are prompted via an app to collect data via surveys that ask basic yet revealing questions (“Where are you? Who are you with? How do you feel?”).
“We can analyze the data and demonstrate to students certain concepts, such as measuring happiness,” explains Matz.
Hard data, Matz believes, can provide the means by which to answer questions about aging that are often rooted in heart and soul.
“People say, ‘I’ve invested so much in my family, my work, my community; now it’s my time,’” she says. “Some want to re-imagine themselves, whether through volunteerism, education, even another kind of paid work. We need to look at the lives of older adults through their eyes, and help them address their questions and concerns about what comes next.”
—Sean Smith, University Communications | April 2019