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Chicago Health and Activity in Real-Time (CHART)

Two women sit next to each other laughing while knitting
The first-ever study documenting how activity spaces change as people age
  • Client
    The National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health
  • Dates
    2016 - 2022

Problem

Scientists lacked data on how aging affects activity and how activity affects health. 

Researchers have theorized that their physical worlds become smaller as people age, leading to poor health outcomes. But no comprehensive data existed to confirm or disprove this widely accepted idea.

Solution

NORC launched a groundbreaking study based on real-time responses. 

Working with the National Institute on Aging (NIA), NORC at the University of Chicago partnered with faculty at the University of Chicago, Cornell University, and Ohio State University to design and conduct the first-ever study to measure how spatial and social isolation affects seniors' physical and mental welfare. 

NORC researchers used in-person interviews, GPS trackers, and "in-the-moment" smartphone surveys to collect three waves of biometric, location, and self-reported psychological data from more than 450 Chicago area senior citizens living in 10 racially/ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods. 

The CHART team also conducted a smaller follow-up study funded by the National Science Foundation to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the activity spaces and health status of older adults in Chicago.

Result

We explored a new dimension of loneliness, broadening our understanding of seniors' social lives. 

Preliminary results yielded fresh insights into the social lives of seniors. Most notably, NORC's "in-the-moment" surveys measured a novel aspect of loneliness—"momentary loneliness"—which is episodic and potentially intense but not normally detected using conventional static measures. 

The findings led to a breakthrough paper by the CHART team describing momentary loneliness as a "unique and under-explored" phenomenon and suggesting further research as to whether this new type of social estrangement could serve as a tipping point for bipolar disorder, depression, and suicide among seniors.

Project Leads

Journal Articles

“We are the first to tackle this phenomenon, to even identify it as a phenomenon. If I’m a person who experiences occasional, extreme loneliness, those in-the-moment extreme feelings of loneliness at high stress levels can have significant health effects that are not going to be picked up on.”

Vice President

“We are the first to tackle this phenomenon, to even identify it as a phenomenon. If I’m a person who experiences occasional, extreme loneliness, those in-the-moment extreme feelings of loneliness at high stress levels can have significant health effects that are not going to be picked up on.”

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