Driving Thought Leadership and Innovation

Meet a compassionate team singularly focused on improving the lives of older adults

Our researchers build their work on a solid foundation of education and expertise, as well as a passion for understanding aging issues and sharing relevant research with professionals in senior living and aging services in order to support innovation.

Catherine O’Brien, PhD, MPH

Senior Vice President of Mather Institute and Community Initiatives

In addition to supervising translational research and various initiatives within the Institute, Dr. O’Brien plays a pivotal role in cultivating collaborative research partnerships with universities and professionals in the field of aging. Dr. O’Brien’s recent research endeavors encompass topics such as wellness in residents of Life Plan Communities, racial/ethnic diversity in Life Plan Communities, and a comprehensive survey examining the attitudes and interests of Generation X. Her educational background includes a master’s degree in public health (epidemiology) from San Diego State University and a doctoral degree in public health and community health sciences from the University of Illinois – Chicago.

Dr. O’Brien also oversees Mather’s Community Initiatives area of service, which is focused on providing wellness opportunities for older adults in Chicagoland, particularly in underserved neighborhoods. Current initiatives include Do-It-Together Creative Art Kits and programs focused on arts and wellness.

Dr. O’Brien Ages Well by skiing and reading non-fiction books (but not at the same time).

Selected Publications:

Khan, M.M., Hill, P.L. & O’Brien, C.J. (2023). Hope and healthy lifestyle behaviors in older adulthood, Aging & Mental Health, 27:7, 1436-1442, DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2023.2188171

Smith, J.L., Bihary, J.G., O’Connor, D., Basic, A., & O’Brien, C.J. (2020). Impact of savoring ability on the relationship between older adults’ activity engagement and well-being. Journal of Applied Gerontology. 39(3):323-331. doi:10.1177/0733464819871876

Piedra, L.M., Ridings, J., Howe, M.J.K., et al. (2020). Stakeholders’ ideas about positive aging for Latinos: A conceptual map. Journal of Applied Gerontology. doi:10.1177/0733464820935749

Treichler, E., Glorioso, D., Lee, E., Wu, T., Tu, X., Daly, R., O’Brien, C., Smith, J.L. & Jeste, D. (2020). A pragmatic trial of a group intervention in senior housing communities to increase resilience. International Psychogeriatrics, 32(2), 173-182. doi:10.1017/S1041610219002096

Nicholson, R. & O’Brien, C. (2017). Lessons learned from designing and evaluating an educational brain fitness program. Working with Older People, 21 (2):100-106, doi: 10.1108/WWOP-12-2016-0034

O’Brien, C., Smith, J. & Beck, D. (2016). Real relationships in a virtual world: Social engagement among older adults in Second Life. Gerontechnology, 15(3):171-179.

O’Brien, C. & Nicholson, R. (2015). Senior Living Residents’ Perceptions of the Boost Your Brain & Memory Program. Seniors Housing & Care Journal, 23(1): 45-57.

King, S., O’Brien, C., Edelman, P., & Fazio, S. (2011). Evaluation of the person centered care essentials program: Importance of trainers in achieving targeted outcomes. Gerontology & Geriatrics Education. 32(4): 379-395.

Edelman P., O’Brien C., Loftus E.M., & Engel R. (2010). Whole-person wellness in senior living: perspectives of 23 pioneering communities. Seniors Housing & Care Journal, 18(1): 53-65.

O’Brien C., Selod S., & Lamb K.V. (2009). A national initiative to train long-term care staff for disaster response and recovery. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, Supplement.

Jennifer L. Smith, PhD


Dr. Smith conducts research on ways to enhance psychological well-being and resilience among older adults. She is also responsible for overseeing the Novare Engagement and Satisfaction Surveys for residents and employees and Mather’s Institutional Review Board.

Dr. Smith’s recent and ongoing research projects include a survey of attitudes and interests of Generation X, an evaluation of a volunteering/social action program for residents, a pilot of a resident wellness assessment, an evaluation of a resident wellness coaching program, a study of motivations for solitude among older adults, and a 5-year longitudinal study of the health and wellness of Life Plan Community residents.

She holds a doctorate degree in social psychology from Loyola University Chicago, where she completed her dissertation prior to joining Mather.

Dr. Smith Ages Well by painting and learning new skills and hobbies.

Selected Publications:

Fullen, M. C., Smith, J. L., Clarke, P. B., Westcott, J. B., McCoy, R., & Tomlin, C. C. (2023). Holistic wellness coaching for older adults: Preliminary evidence for a novel wellness intervention in senior living communities. Journal of Applied Gerontology42(3), 427-437. https://doi.org/10.1177/07334648221135582

Smith, J. L., Thomas, V., & Azmitia, M. (2023). Self-determination buffers the association between negative motivations for solitude and maladjustment among older adults. Personality and Individual Differences, 202, Article no. 111992. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2022.111992

Smith, J. L., Thomas, V., & Azmitia, M. (2023). Happy alone? Motivational profiles of solitude and well-being among senior living residents. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 96(3), 312-334. https://doi.org/10.1177/00914150221112283

Smith, J. L., Clarke, P. B., & Fullen, M. C. (2023). Perceptions of aging and wellness engagement among life plan community residents. Educational Gerontology, 49, 240-250. https://doi.org/10.1080/03601277.2022.2101313

Menkin, J. A., Smith, J. L., & Bihary, J. G. (2022). Brief messages addressing aging increase physical activity motivation among older community-dwelling adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 41(2), 478-485. https://doi.org/10.1177/0733464820960925

Piedra, L. M., Ridings, J., Howe, M. J. K., Smith, J. L., O’Brien, C., Howard, A., & Conrad, K. J. (2021). Stakeholders’ ideas about positive aging for Latinos: A conceptual map. Journal of Applied Gerontology40(10), 1342-1355. https://doi.org/10.1177/0733464820935749

Bryant F. B., Osowski K. A., Smith J. L. (2021). Gratitude as a mediator of the effects of savoring on positive adjustment to aging. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 92(3), 275-300. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091415020919999

Smith, J. L., Bihary, J. G., O’Connor, D., Basic, A., & O’Brien, C. J. (2020). Impact of savoring ability on the relationship between older adults’ activity engagement and well-being. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 39, 323-331. https://doi.org/10.1177/0733464819871876  

Smith, J. L., & Bryant, F. B. (2019). Enhancing positive perceptions of aging by savoring life lessons. Aging and Mental Health, 23, 762-770doi:10.1080/13607863.2018.1450840

Smith, J. L., & Hanni, A. A. (2019). Effects of a savoring intervention on resilience and well-being of older adults. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 38, 137-152. doi:10.1177/0733464817693375

Smith, J. L. (2018). Influence of senior living employees’ perceptions of aging on engagement and quality of resident interactions. Senior Housing and Care Journal, 26, 50-60.

Smith, J. L., & Bryant, F. B. (2017). Savoring and well-being: Mapping the cognitive-emotional terrain of the happy mind. To appear in M. Eid & M. D. Robinson (Eds.), The Happy Mind: Cognitive Contributions to Well-Being (pp. 139-156). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Smith, J. L., & Bryant, F. B. (2016). The benefits of savoring life: Savoring as a moderator of life satisfaction in older adults. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 84, 3-23.

Smith, J. L., & Hollinger-Smith, L. (2015). Savoring, resilience, and psychological well-being in older adults. Aging and Mental Health, 19, 192-200.

Mushira Mohsin Khan, MA, PhD

Senior Research Manager

Dr. Khan is a social gerontologist who conducts research on the social aspects of aging and ways to enhance the quality of living for older adults across diverse communities, countries, and cultures. She holds a doctorate degree in sociology from the University of Victoria, BC, Canada.

Dr. Khan’s ongoing projects include the Perceptions of Aging Well Among Diverse Older Adults Study, the Diversity in Life Plan Communities Study, and a project on enhancing mindful eating practices in older adults. Other areas of study have included Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias; immigration and acculturation; intergenerational support exchanges in families; and social determinants of health.

Dr. Khan Ages Well by spending time with her human and feline companions, experimenting with aromatic spices and herbs to create vibrant South Asian meals, and watching or reading cozy mysteries.

Selected Publications:

Khan, M. M., Hill, P. L., and O’Brien, C. (2023) Hope and healthy lifestyle behaviors in older adulthood. Aging & Mental Health27(7), 14361442, DOI: 10.1080/13607863.2023.2188171

Khan, M. M., and Sheetal, S. (2023): “We are all spiritual beings on a human journey”: gerotranscendence and generativity in the stories of South Asian American older adults. Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging, DOI: 10.1080/15528030.2023.2255981

Khan, M. M. (2023). Of duty and diaspora:(Re) negotiating the intergenerational contract in South Asian Muslim families. Journal of Aging Studies, DOI: 10.1016/j.jaging.2023.101152

Kobayashi, K. M., and Khan, M. M. (2023). Older migrants and access and usage of care. Handbook on Migration and Ageing, 311-321, DOI: 10.4337/9781839106774.00038.

Khan, M. M., and Kobayashi, K. (2015). Optimizing health promotion among ethnocultural minority older adults (EMOA). International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care11(4), 268-281.

Kobayashi, K. M., Cloutier, D. S., Khan, M. M., and Fitzgerald, K. (2020). Asset based community development to promote healthy aging in a rural context in Western Canada: Notes from the field. Journal of Community Practice28(1), 66-76.

Kobayashi, K. M., Funk, L., and Khan, M. M. (2017). Constructing a sense of commitment in ‘Living Apart Together’(LAT) relationships: Interpretive agency and individualization. Current Sociology65(7), 991-1009.

Jacquelyn Stephens, PhD

Senior Research Associate

Dr. Jacquelyn Stephens is a developmental-health psychologist who conducts research on factors that promote happier and healthier aging. Her research focuses on predictors of well-being across the lifespan, with an emphasis on the protective role of positive emotion in times of stress and adversity.

Her research at Mather Institute has focused on how savoring the moment, a form of positive emotion regulation, can contribute to better well-being in older adults. She also evaluates internal Mather programs and initiatives.

Prior to Mather, Dr. Stephens was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University in 2022.

Jacquelyn Ages Well by traveling, trying new restaurants and coffee shops, and spending time with her husband and her cat.

Select Publications:

Meier, T, Stephens, J. E., & Haase, C. M. (In Press). Change in emotion regulation across the lifespan. In A.C. Samson, D. Sander & U. Kramer (Eds.), Change in Emotion and Mental Health.

Meier, T., Stephens, J. E., & Haase, C. M. (2023). Feelings in words: Emotion word use and cardiovascular reactivity in marital interactions. Emotion.

Stephens, J. E., Rompilla Jr, D. B., Hittner, E. F., Mittal, V. A., & Haase, C. M. (2023). Executive functioning and nontarget emotions in late life. Emotion23(1), 97.

Stephens, J. E., Hittner, E. F., & Haase, C. M. (2022). Emotion regulation in couples across the life span. The Oxford Handbook of Emotional Development, 322-338.

Stephens, J. E., Kessler, C. L., Buss, C., Miller, G. E., Grobman, W. A., Keenan‐Devlin, L., … & Adam, E. K. (2021). Early and current life adversity: Past and present influences on maternal diurnal cortisol rhythms during pregnancy. Developmental Psychobiology63(2), 305-319.

Hittner, E. F., Stephens, J. E., Turiano, N. A., Gerstorf, D., Lachman, M. E., & Haase, C. M. (2020). Positive affect is associated with less memory decline: Evidence from a 9-year longitudinal study. Psychological Science31(11), 1386-1395.

Laurel Mertz, MA

Senior Research Analyst

Ms. Mertz conducts data collection and data management activities across many studies at the Institute and is the IRB Administrator for Mather. She holds a master’s degree in applied psychology from Loyola University Chicago.

In addition to assisting Mather Institute with the Age Well Study, a five-year longitudinal study of health among Life Plan Community residents, her most recent project includes a comprehensive survey examining the attitudes and interests of Generation X. She also supports Mather’s Community Initiatives area of service by conducting evaluations for the Do-It-Together Creative Art Kits program and managing Mather resident and employee engagement surveys.

Ms. Mertz Ages Well by spending time in nature, trying out new hobbies, and playing board games with friends.

Selected Publications:

Bohnert, A. M., Nicholson, L. M., Mertz, L., Bates, C. R., & Gerstein, D. E. (2021). Green schoolyard renovations in low-income urban neighborhoods: Benefits to students, schools, and the surrounding community. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1– 11. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12559

Ajla Basic, PHD, PMP

Project Manager

Since joining the Institute, Ms. Basic has supported the completion of multiple research projects. She was a key team member on the Age Well Study, a five-year longitudinal study of health among Life Plan Community residents. In addition, she manages the Institute’s Requests for Proposals (RFP) program, which solicits and identifies Collaborative Research Partners. Ms. Basic assumes a crucial role in coordinating award submissions for both the annual Promising Practices Awards and the Innovative Research on Aging Awards.

Ms. Basic holds a master’s degree in applied psychology and is currently a doctoral candidate at Loyola University Chicago, where she is also an undergraduate instructor. Her current projects include the Perceptions of Aging Well Among Diverse Older Adults Study, and a project on enhancing mindful eating practices in older adults.

Ms. Basic Ages Well by traveling, trying out new hobbies, and exploring all the delicious food Chicago has to offer.

Selected Publications:

Basic, Ajla (2020). Examining Organizational Factors and Their Impact on Older Adults in Life Plan Communities. Loyola University.

Smith, J. L., Bihary, G. Joseph., O’Connor, D., Basic, A., & O’Brien, C. (2019). Impact of Savoring Ability on the Relationship Between Older Adults’ Activity Engagement and Well-Being. Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Smith, J. L., Bihary, G. Joseph., O’Connor, D., Basic, A., & O’Brien, C. (2019). Wellness among Life Plan Community Residents: Relationships between Culture and Outcomes. Seniors Housing & Care Journal.

Basic, A. (2020). Examining Organizational Factors and Their Impact on Older Adults in Life Plan Communities.  (Master’s  thesis). Loyola University, Chicago.

    Get the Latest Research & Trends

    Join our email list to receive information about the latest research from Mather Institute.