Data from the latest census shows that between 2000 and 2010 the population of older adults (age 65 and older) in the United States increased faster than the overall population.
According to Jamila Bookwala, professor of psychology, this increase is unprecedented in history and, when added to an increase in life expectancy and a decrease in the birth rate, brings with it “profound social and economic changes and challenges.” The burgeoning population of older adults is a worldwide phenomenon, creating a critical need to study and develop approaches that promote healthy aging while simultaneously meeting the needs associated with age-related disease and disability.
Lafayette is taking steps to help meet those needs by approving a new minor in aging studies. Beginning this spring, the program is open to students starting with the Class of 2015.
“Aging is perhaps the most universal and unifying experience we can have—if we are lucky, all of us will age,” says Bookwala, program chair. “And yet, there is much diversity in the aging experience. I became fascinated with this area when I was only a little older than the students who take my classes. It is a field that is dynamic, multidisciplinary, and forward looking.”
The program prepares students for graduate study related to aging studies, such as human development, life span or developmental psychology, social gerontology, health economics, and public health. It also will help prepare students for careers that focus on the needs of older adults, including specialized areas of medicine, law, nursing, politics, and social work.
Gerontology is a quintessentially interdisciplinary field. For instance, Bookwala team-taught the course Making Theater: On Aging with Suzanne Westfall, professor of English, for which students staged a production of On Aging. Students created an ethnographic narrative based on the life stories of alumni, Easton residents, and family members who are 60 and over.
Bookwala often includes students in her research, which focuses on individual differences in the aging process, specifically how social relationships and psychological strengths aid resilience in the face of common life stressors as people age. Psychology major Katie Graziano ’15 (West Easton, Pa.) is working with her on a literature review on the role of close social relationships promoting health in late life, and neuroscience major Devon Palermo ’14 (Mays Landing, N.J.) will begin a project next semester exploring the nutritional needs of elders in the community.
The students’ projects are funded through the College’s new Preminger Gerontology Scholar Program, made possible by a gift from Marc ’71 and Lynne Preminger.