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LIVES international conference - Relationships in later life: Challenges and opportunities

The conference will take place on June 28-29, 2016 at the University of Bern. Featuring ten invited talks including five keynote speeches and five lectures from NCCR LIVES researchers, it is structured around two main topics: "Patterns of adaptation to interpersonal loss in later life and their determinants" and "Interventions and preventive measures addressing loneliness or bereavement as well as the promotion of positive relationships in later life". There will also be two poster sessions. Deadline for submissions is June 6.


  • Self-Concept regulation and resilience to interpersonal loss
    > Prof. Dr. Anthony MANCINI, Pace University (NY)
  • Adaptation to bereavement in late life
    > Prof. Dr Margret STROEBE, University of Utrecht
  • Making connections: loneliness interventions in later life
    > Prof. Dr. Nan STEVENS, VU University Amsterdam; Radboud University, Nijmegen
  • Social network compensation in later life: resourcefulness, resilience, and constraints
    > Prof. Dr. Karen ROOK, University of California Irvine
  • Resilience research, resilience promotion, and the role of flexibility
    > Prof. Dr. George BONANNO, Columbia University (NY)

Presentation of the conference

Close relationships are crucial for well-being in later life. Social support and companionship contribute to life satisfaction, positive affect and health and reduce the adverse effects of stress. In contrast, poor relationship quality and ambivalence represent risk factors, for couples as well as individuals sharing other close ties, such as adult children and their parents. Breakup of an intimate partnership through bereavement or divorce is frequent in later life and is one of the most stressful life events. This can pose a significant challenge to psychological well-being, particularly in a stage of life, when social and physical resources are declining. Nevertheless, older adults differ considerably in their patterns of adaptation and how well they cope with the loss of a partner.

The general goal of this conference is to combine vulnerability and resilience-oriented research lines with intervention studies in order to analyse what facilitates or hinders successful regulation of interpersonal loss and relationship challenges in later life. The conference is structured around two main topics: 1) Patterns of adaptation to interpersonal loss in later life and their determinants; and 2) interventions and preventive measures addressing loneliness or bereavement as well as the promotion of positive relationships in later life.

The conference will feature 10 invited talks of about 45 or 30 minutes + 15 minutes of discussion and a round table discussion. Four sessions will cover the following topics:

1. Patterns of adaptation to divorce and bereavement

This session examines different patterns of psychological adaptation after divorce and bereavement. Both, bereavement as an age-normative life-event and marital breakup as a less frequent event “intentionally initiated” transition require psychosocial adaptation. The large inter-individual differences in this adaptation process are still not well understood.

Prof. Dr. Anthony Mancini (Pace University, NY) will focus on resilience as the most frequent pattern of adaptation to interpersonal loss and highlight intra- and interpersonal resources that predict resilience. He proposes that interpersonal losses are fundamentally a threat to the self. This will be explored related to cross-cultural findings, emotion regulation of loss-related affect, autobiographical memory and loss appraisals.

Prof. Dr. Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello (University of Bern) will address the new social phenomenon of divorce in Swiss older adults. She will present recent longitudinal findings on adaptation patterns and factors that account for recovery or chronicity such as intrapersonal resources or relationship variables.

2. Coping with interpersonal loss

Based on a theoretical background on coping with interpersonal loss, this session gives an overview of ways, how older people try to cope with interpersonal loss or bereavement. Adaptive ways of coping will be investigated.

Prof. Dr. Margret Stroebe (University of Utrecht) will examine main findings on coping with bereavement in general and specific to later life. Results will be considered through the perspective of the Dual Process Model of Coping and potential extensions of the model as well as a broader perspective of an integrative risk factor framework will be presented.

Prof. Dr. Michel Oris (University of Geneva) will present how friendships among the elderly have evolved over thirty years and how friendships relate to family relationships. He will examine whether presence of friends contribute to the coping process and subjective well-being in the case of accidents, hospitalisations, bereavement or frailty.

Prof. Dr. Daniela Jopp (University of Lausanne) will draw on two centenarian studies to elaborate on the relationship between very old parents and their advanced age children. She will describe the unique challenges of centenarian and their social support network and examine factors that could protect from loneliness and poor well-being at this very advanced age.

3. Interventions for loneliness and complicated grief after divorce or bereavement

One of the most frequently reported consequences of interpersonal loss are feelings of loneliness which are very frequent in older people. Loneliness contributes to persistent psychosocial problems and poorer health behaviour that effects physical, emotional and cognitive functioning.

Prof. Dr. Nan Stevens (VU University Amsterdam; Radboud University, Nijmegen) will present several effective interventions to reduce loneliness in old age including a widow(er)-to widow(er) visiting program to promote successful adaptation by providing companionship, information and a role model as well as an intervention offering training and means to engage in social contracts digitally.

A smaller group of divorced or bereaved individuals struggle in their adaptation to interpersonal loss or even develop psychological disorders such as depression or complicated grief, which need to be diagnosed and treated.

Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Znoj (University of Bern) will give an overview of grief reactions on the background of a schema-based inconsistency model. He will focus on mechanisms how grief becomes a prolonged grief disorder and present psychotherapeutic interventions as well as a guided internet-based self-help intervention addressing grief symptoms in later life.

4. Promoting well-being and resilience in later life

The last session aims at integrating resource and vulnerability focused lines of research on social relationships and addresses possibilities to foster resilience and well-being in old age.

Prof. Dr. Karen Rook (University of California Irvine) will address the question how older adults seek to reorganise their social lives after an interpersonal loss. She will examine to what extend and how alternative sources of social support and companionship can compensate for the loss of a key social relationship and what other compensatory processes may help to preserve older adult’s resourcefulness and resilience.

Prof. Dr. Eric Widmer (University of Geneva) will explore the associations between quality of life, social support and conflict structures in family networks of the elderly, also addressing the impact of negative and ambivalent family relationships. The importance of conflicts for adjustment to old age will be discussed.

Prof. Dr. George Bonanno (Columbia University, NY) will finally present a general overview of resilience research and discuss the question of why people are resilient. One focus will be on the construct of regulatory flexibility as both a predictor of resilient outcomes and a possible avenue to help people become more resilient.

>> Call for abstracts for poster presentations

Practical information

  • Registration deadline is June 20, 2016.
  • The conference will be held during two days, Tuesday, 28th and Wednesday, 29th June 2016 at the University of Bern, Switzerland.
  • The venue is UniS, close to the railway station.
  • Coffee and lunch breaks, poster sessions as well as two wine receptions will offer plenty of opportunities for informal networking.
  • Participants who do not belong to the NCCR LIVES and/or the Department of Psychology of the University of Bern shall pay a small fee of 150 CHF for conference attendance including catering (students, alumni of NCCR LIVES and the University of Bern, one-day participants, and members of SWIPPA shall only pay 80 CHF).
  • Everyone is kindly asked to register online (see below), as the number of participants is limited.
  • Conference participants can get reduced prices at the Sorel Hotel Ador (single room for CHF 150). For other accommodations, please refer to the Bern Tourism Office's hotel list.

Organising and scientific committee



Deadline: June 6, 2016


Deadline: June 20, 2016