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Growing number of older population in U.S. makes gerontology increasingly important major

By Michelle Hall

 

Between 2000 and 2030, the older population — people age 65 and older — in the United States will more than double from 35 million to 71.5 million, with the oldest of the older population — people over age 85 — as the fastest growing segment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With this growth will come an increasing demand for personnel in nearly every field to seek specialized training in gerontology, according to faculty with Kansas State University's gerontology program.

Gerontology is the multidisciplinary study of the aging processes and individuals as they grow from middle age through later life. It includes the study of physical, mental and social changes in people as they age; the investigation of the changes in society resulting from the aging population; and the application of this knowledge to policies and programs.

K-State has offered a secondary major in gerontology since 1978. A graduate emphasis in gerontology was approved in 1981, and an emphasis in long-term care has been offered since 1985. These programs allow students to integrate knowledge received in their major professional discipline with academic study and field experience in gerontology.

"Everyone is growing older," said Pam Evans of K-State's Center on Aging. "Many times the information received about gerontology is helpful not only in students' jobs, but with their own family and friends. Because of the growing numbers of the older population, every field will need workers with some background or experience in gerontology.

"People who work in the field of gerontology have great job satisfaction by helping others maintain the quality of life, addressing the challenges of those growing older and enjoying the wisdom and creativity of older people," she said.

Emphasizing in gerontology may be of special interest to students preparing for careers in such fields as social work, nursing, counseling, recreation, public policy, long-term care administration, medicine, architecture, psychology, adult education, rehabilitation therapy, psychology, management, marketing, law, ministry, community and regional planning, sociology, speech pathology, horticulture therapy, clothing, media and foods and nutrition.

The K-State gerontology program is interdisciplinary, drawing from departments across campus to give students a thorough knowledge of the field. Participating departments include human ecology; apparel, textiles and interior design; architecture; biology; family studies and human services; history; horticulture; human nutrition; interior architecture; kinesiology; philosophy; psychology; regional and community planning; sociology; and speech. Courses include those in gerontology, designing supportive environments, environment and aging, biology of aging, human development and aging, estate planning, economics of aging, death and dying in history, life-span nutrition, medical ethics, life-span personality development and drama therapy for older adults, among others.

The program in long-term care administration also requires business courses in accounting and management, with courses in finance and marketing also recommended.

K-State participates in online degrees in gerontology through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance, which pools the resources of various Midwestern universities to create degree programs. These degrees include a master's in gerontology and a certificate in gerontology. K-State has accepted students for this program since fall 2003.

The introduction to gerontology class is a university general education course. Administrators in the gerontology program are encouraging every department to consider collaborating with aging studies as the demand for those with training in gerontology increases.

 

Winter 2005