by Stephanie J. Wilson, PhD
From shared joys and heartache to love and growth, the ins and outs of our close relationships have the ability to shape our health and well-being throughout our lives. It is often simple to see how relationships can affect us emotionally, but loved ones can also influence our physical health and longevity in ways the naked eye may miss. For example, did you know that people with a lot of social support live longer than those with less support, and that the effect is stronger than the benefits of exercise? Or, have you heard that a tense disagreement with your partner can slow your metabolism and change your immune system? Discovering the reasons behind these phenomena is the mission of the Study of Health, Aging, and Relationships (SHARE) Lab at Southern Methodist University (SMU) here in Dallas, Texas. Directed by SMU assistant professor Dr. Stephanie Wilson, the SHARE Lab investigates exactly how our evolving relationships with loved ones influence both our physical and mental health across adulthood.
“As we research the pathways by which our relationships “get under the skin,” one element of our work is integral - our community’s participation,” said Wilson. The SHARE Lab is actively recruiting couples ages 25 and older to participate in their current study, the Couples, Aging, and Relationships (CARE) Study, to learn more about the physical health changes that occur while in a relationship. Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the goal of the CARE study is to learn about couples’ experiences, feelings, and their physical health measures to understand how life with a partner relates to changes in the cardiovascular and immune systems. By uncovering how partnerships shape our biology, the study will help us to better understand the protective role of close relationships in healthy aging and disease risk.
Participating in the CARE study means completing two visits at the SHARE Lab at SMU’s East Campus. Before entering, each couple has their temperature checked along with a quick screening for COVID-19 symptoms. The research team uses extensive precautions for COVID-19, wearing masks and other protective equipment throughout the study visits to ensure participants' safety. Participants complete questionnaires on a variety of relationship and individual topics. The study team measures aspects of your physical health, including heart rate, skin moisture, blood pressure, and several more. Participation is entirely voluntary, and all of the information collected is kept private and strictly confidential.
Participating couples of all backgrounds have enjoyed playing a central role in this study and had the opportunity to learn more about the importance of this research through their participation. One of the participants shared, “I was honored to take part in the CARE Study at SMU. It was very informative; the teammates were thoughtful and efficient throughout the process. I look forward to reading about the ultimate findings of the study.” Another expressed, ”It was a pleasure to participate in the SMU CARE Study. I found it to be stimulating and at times challenging; interviews, recorded responses, conversations with my partner,...were all used during the sessions.” Participants continue to provide positive, helpful feedback and often share information about the study with others to encourage research participation.
Individuals in the CARE study receive some unique benefits. You will receive a report on your health based on your answers to the study-related surveys and tasks. This report will give you insight into your eating, exercising, and sleeping habits, and other measurements of your physical health. Additionally, participants are compensated with up to $250 per person ($500 per couple) as a thank you for their time and participation. Participants’ investment of their valuable time and energy will ultimately improve our understanding of how couples’ life experiences link to their physical health through the immune and cardiovascular systems.
The SHARE Lab will be hosting a virtual event, “Love Notes,” on Valen
tine’s Day this year! Please join the Zoom event on Monday, February 14th at 2:00pm to play a fun game of Love Song trivia with music and lyrics from cherished classic love songs. The top three competitors will win gift cards, and of course, the winning title.
Ultimately, one hundred couples will participate in the CARE study. Couples ages 25 and older who qualify for the study must have lived together as a couple for at least three years and speak English. Scheduling is very flexible, with both weekday and weekend time slots. If you or someone you know may be eligible for the study, please visit the lab’s website (sharelab.smu.edu), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (214) 768-2399 for more information.•