Writing Real World Research has been fun and also a lot of work. I read a lot more research than I end up writing about. Academic writing is no easy read and I am eternally grateful to those researchers who manage to slip a little joke in here and there. Some papers are so dense that even if the topic is compelling, my eyes cross and I can’t hack my way through them. I have no one to blame but myself—I decided to focus this blog on research. Sometimes I hate myself for choosing a theme that so often forces me in way over my head.
Still, one of the perks of being a writer is that I get paid for finding out stuff I want to know. Reading and writing about research has taught me all kinds of useful things which, as the blog title suggests, I can take into the real world.
So to reflect on the past year, here is some of the stuff I learned writing Real World Research in 2011 that has been most useful to me.
New research from Penn State and the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging finds that caregivers of people with dementia are not listening to what the people they care for want.
The researchers interviewed 256 pairs of people. In each pair, one person had mild to moderate dementia, the other was the caregiver.
The researchers interviewed members of the pairs separately, asking questions related to how much value they place on five core values: autonomy, burden, control, family and safety. For example, one question focused on the level of importance a dementia patient gave to the ability to spend his or her own money in the way he or she wants.
“Our results demonstrate that adult children underestimate the importance that their relatives with dementia placed on all five core values,” said [lead researcher Steven] Zarit. “For example, the person with dementia might think it is very important to continue to be part of family celebrations, but his or her caregiver might not.”
So the caregivers/decision makers aren’t taking into account what the person with dementia values. That’s really sad.
This article about “Happiness Hangovers” –about the letdown we often feel after good times– sparked a little discussion on my Facebook page about the tick-tick-tick of the clock on the TV show 60 Minutes. The sound is, several of us agreed, a Pavlovian stimulus that triggers the here-comes-Monday blues.
Do you think the producers know how bummed that sound makes us?
The damn happiness hangover.
I start worrying about happiness hangovers while I should still be happy. Even as I’m having a good time, I’m imagining the end of it. I can easily spoil a lovely time for myself just by thinking about how sad I’ll be when it’s over.
I remember this about Christmas when I was a little girl. (Yes, I’m Jewish. Long story.) Even as we were unwrapping presents and eating coffee cake, I felt loss. It was a day bathed in warmth and magic that I knew could never be recaptured once it was over. It was the saddest happiest day of the year. My birthday came a close second.
Now, when I’m laughing with friends or raking leaves or romping with the dog or sitting quietly with my husband, I sometimes think “These are the good old days,” and feel sad because I know that someday I’m going to miss these good old days.
This is anticipatory anxiety: Feeling anxious about something that is going to happen.
I like to play a version of that game when I see interesting research. I’ve been puzzling over the new research about how the happiest places in the United States have the highest suicide rates.
The researchers speculate that this is because we all tend to compare ourselves with others, and people who are unhappy find scant comfort in comparing themselves with others if everyone is having a grand time but them. In other word, being unhappy in a happy place makes unhappy people unhappier.
That’s feasible. But just for fun, let’s brainstorm some others possible reasons for this surprising finding.
The research found that:
Compared with individuals of the same age who were normal weight or overweight, participants aged 45-54 who were obese were more likely to report that emotional problems had affected their work, social or regular activities in the past month.
In addition, the participants aged between 45 and 54 years who were obese were less likely to have felt calm and peaceful in the previous month.
Obese people of a certain age are unhappier and more anxious than people of that age who are not obese.
We know that correlation isn’t causation. We don’t know if the unhappy/anxious obese study participants are unhappy because they’re obese or obese because they’re unhappy. We don’t know what had happened in their lives during the month under discussion. We don’t know why they are obese. It’s possible (as these researchers acknowledge) that antidepressant medication caused this group to gain weight. Or maybe, as some people suggest, the stigma of being overweight led to their depression. Or maybe they got fat because depression saps energy and lack of activity causes weight gain.