Christina Matz

Christina (Tina) Matz, PhD, MSW  

Associate Professor, Boston College School of Social Work
Chair, Older Adults and Families
Co-Director, Center on Aging & Work

Christina Matz (formerly Matz-Costa) has been affiliated with the Center in different forms since 2006. Her research examines the complex pathways between health/well-being and engagement during later life, with a focus on social and productive activities (e.g., employment, volunteering, informal helping, and caregiving). Her aim is to better explicate the social determinants, outcomes, and mechanisms of different forms and patterns of engagement (behavioral engagement as well as affective-cognitive engagement) with the ultimate goal of identifying interventions that can be applied at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels that reduce the burden of disease and disability on families, communities, and society, and improve the overall quality of life of older adults.

In one stream of Dr. Matz’s work, she and her colleagues expanded the conceptual space of continued “engagement” in later life as a pathway to successful aging through an initiative of the Center on Aging & Work, “Engaged as We Age”. Often times continued engagement refers to involvement in social and productive activities (i.e., paid work, volunteerism, caregiving, and informal helping) and focuses little on older adults’ assessment of the subjective quality of their role experiences. Findings from this initiative demonstrate that just staying involved in productive activities in and of itself is not sufficient to support health and wellbeing in later life. Workers, volunteers, and caregivers reported higher psychological well-being than non-workers, non-volunteers, and non-caregivers, respectively, when they felt highly engaged—a construct that refers to the experience of connecting on a deep and meaningful level with a role—but reported lower psychological well-being than their counterparts when they felt low in engagement. The team developed an innovative new measure of engagement in later life using Rasch measurement principles that can be used across multiple productive activities, known as the Productive Engagement Portfolio (PEP). This approach has been recognized as both conceptually and methodologically innovative, winning the AARC/MECD Patricia B. Elmore Award for Outstanding Research in Measurement and Evaluation in 2014.

Dr. Matz also recently developed and tested a health promotion program for older community-dwelling adults called Engaged4Life (funded National Institute on Aging’s Boston Roybal Center for Active Lifestyle Interventions (P30AG048785).  Based in the Social Model of Health Promotion (Fried et al., 2014), Engaged4Life is a novel program to encourage inactive community-dwelling older adults to embed physical activity, cognitive activity, and social interaction into their everyday lives in contexts that are personally meaningful and natural for them. Fifteen participants were randomized to the intervention group (technology-assisted self-monitoring of daily activity via pedometers and daily tablet-based surveys; psychoeducation + goal-setting via a 3-hour workshop; and peer mentoring via phone 2×/week for 2.5 weeks) and 15 to the control (technology-assisted self-monitoring only). Recruitment was shown to be feasible and efficient, but not able to reach the target for men. Retention rate was 83% and participants manifested high adherence and engagement with the intervention. Though this pilot trial was not powered to demonstrate significant differences between groups, daily steps increased by 431 (11% increase) from baseline to Week 4 for the intervention (p < .05), but decreased by 458 for the control, for a net difference of 889 steps (p < .05). Findings were sustained at Week 8 (p < .01). She is currently working to adapt this intervention for Alzheimer’s caregivers and to racial and ethnic minority older adult populations as well as to test the original program on a larger scale in the community.

Dr. Matz is a co-lead on the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge on Advancing Long and Productive Lives which has been identified as one of 12 grand challenges for the social work profession for the next decade. Productive aging is a paradigm that represents a social development response to population aging that seeks to shape social policies and programs to optimally engage the growing human capital of the aging population; to facilitate paid and unpaid work longer into the life course to offset the demands of population aging; and to ensure the inclusion of all segments of the older adult population, especially among those who are more likely to be excluded (e.g., by race, ethnicity, disability).