Population aging is one of the most important social trends of the 21st century. For example, in both Canada and the United States, the number of adults aged ≥65 is projected to increase by 45%-55% in the next 15 years. As societies grapple with the rising tide of chronic conditions, healthcare costs, and long-term care costs, it is imperative to develop a science that informs a more comprehensive approach to healthy aging.
The Psychosocial Flourishing and Health Lab’s overarching goal is to substantially help improve the psychological well-being and physical health of our rapidly growing population. In pursuit of this goal, our basic and translational research revolves around four interwoven questions.
- Psychosocial Well-being and Physical Health: Are different dimensions of psychological well-being (e.g., sense of purpose in life, optimism) and social well-being (e.g., through formal volunteering, informal helping, and friendships) are associated with reduced risk of age-related chronic conditions?
- Most psychosocial, biomedical, and public health efforts have focused on reducing harmful risk factors, and this approach has contributed greatly to prevention and treatment programs. However, as our society ages and grapples with this steadily rising tide of chronic conditions, expanding the focus to include upstream psychosocial assets and resilience factors may help inform the comprehensive, multidisciplinary, and multi-level response efforts that are needed.
- Mechanistic Pathways: What are the mechanistic pathways that explain how psychosocial well-being influences health?
- Investigating mechanisms is critical because it builds the scientific case for a causal relationship between psychosocial well-being and health which may reveal innovative intervention targets. Potential mechanisms include: 1) indirect effects through health behaviors, 2) direct effects on biological processes, and 3) promotion of other psychosocial resources.
- Psychosocial Well-Being and the Social Environment: Are dimensions of psychosocial well-being pathways through which social conditions shape people’s health, and do they foster resilience against these forces?
- Our health is influenced by the social milieu in which we live, including stressful experiences at the individual (e.g., major disease diagnosis), household (e.g., death of a spouse), neighborhood (e.g., low neighborhood cohesion), and societal levels (e.g., social and racial disparities, economic shocks such as the 2008 recession). Yet inadequate attention has been given to psychosocial assets that might buffer against these social adversities.
- Translational Research: How might we partner with large non-profits and healthcare insurers to rigorously test and disseminate population-level interventions aimed at improving psychosocial well-being?
- An important value of this lab is translating basic research into scalable interventions and policies available to large portions of society. Over the past 5 years, Dr. Kim has been working with AARP & UnitedHealth Group to address this question. He has also been invited to speak at and join the working groups of national- and international-think-tanks (United Nations, OECD, Aspen Ideas Festival, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, The Task Force for Global Health, World Government Summit, National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office) where scalable interventions and policies aimed at enhancing the health/well-being of older adults were discussed.