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Senior Melissa Mitchell (Merchantville N.J.) will present her research on the psychology of aging at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Symposium in Boston Nov. 22-26. She is exploring marital quality and health in late adulthood, the role of marriage in memory loss prevention, and the effects of childlessness on older adults in three different studies.

A participant in Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, Mitchell is working with Jamila Bookwala, assistant professor of psychology. In EXCEL, students collaborate closely with professors while earning a stipend.

Bookwala has published her research in several academic journals and book chapters, including articles this year in Journal of Interpersonal Violence and Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, and a chapter in Men as Caregivers: Theory, Research, and Service Implications.

“I love working with Professor Bookwala,” says Mitchell, a psychology major. “She is so dedicated to her field of study, and her enthusiasm about our research is contagious. She keeps me extremely motivated. My hours working with her for the past two semesters have enabled me to better understand the results of our analysis, and be more independent in my research.”

Mitchell has been heavily involved with The Memory Loss Education Project, a study that assessed early memory loss in older adults with a goal of understanding the role of social and marital support as potential protective factors. Mitchell began this study as a volunteer for a community service project aimed at educating senior citizens about early signs of memory loss. She quickly became an EXCEL participant, gathering and organizing data and studying the results.

Mitchell and Bookwala are preparing to report their findings from the project in November as panel members at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Symposium. Bookwala says that some of the biggest names in aging-related research will be at the symposium and that Mitchell is up for the challenge of presenting this research.

“Melissa is a very good scholar; she takes the initiative and hits the ground running,” says Bookwala. “She has played a very active role and my research is in such good shape because of her.”

Mitchell has also been looking at how childlessness affects older adults. Researchers administered neuro-psychological tasks to participants of this study to assess their depression, scored them on their answers using a geriatric depression scale, and ran an analysis on the results. Mitchell and Bookwala will present a paper at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Symposium that looks at the long-term impact that the presence or absence of children has on depression.

“It’s an interesting set of findings,” says Bookwala. “There doesn’t seem to be a difference in marital quality, but without children, older adults are far more depressed.”

The last of Mitchell’s EXCEL projects is a study on marital quality and health in late adulthood. Bookwala believes that people who are married enjoy better health in adulthood than those who are unmarried. Last semester, Mitchell and Bookwala conducted interviews in attempts to confirm this hypothesis. They hope to submit their findings at the American Psychological Association symposium next summer in San Diego.

“More interviews need to be conducted, but in the meantime I am working on organizing the completed interviews, entering them into our database, and analyzing trends with Professor Bookwala,” says Mitchell. “The interviews consisted of questions on marital quality as well as subjects like health, religion, and depression.”

“Lafayette provides the ideal resources and atmosphere for this project,” says Mitchell. “We have our own research space in Oechsle Hall where we can enter our data into two computers at once, and perform more phone interviews from our own personal line.”

Mitchell is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, tour guide, sister in Alpha Phi sorority, and on the executive board of Student Alumni Association. Over the summer, she interned in the Office of Institutional Advancement at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Categorized in: Academic News