Virginia Tech's Center for Gerontology celebrates 30th anniversary

For 30 years, the research, education, and outreach programs of the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology have enhanced the quality of life of older adults.

Research by the center and affiliate faculty members has contributed to disease prevention and management, better health care delivery, improved family relationships, suitable housing, consumer products that meet the needs of older adults, reduction of fraud and abuse, and more, according to professor and center director Karen Roberto.


A senior citizen in her home Center for Gerontology faculty members and students interviewed older women about behavioral and psychosocial influences on the quality of their lives.

''The challenges in understanding and meeting the needs of older adults continue with the rapid increase in the segment of the population over age 65,'' Roberto said.

The center's core and faculty affiliates have received numerous national and international honors and awards for their work. Sociology Professor Toni Calasanti, Human Development Professor Katherine Allen, and Alumni Distinguished Professor Rosemary Blieszner, the center's associate director, have been named Petersen Fellows in Family Gerontology at Oregon State University. These nationally competitive appointments represent 25 percent of Petersen Fellow awards. No other university has had more than one appointment.


Computer courses Connie Billings (foreground) surfs the Web as instructor Connie Anderson and Center for Gerontology Director Karen Roberto talk. The center's research agenda focuses on older adult relationships, how the elderly access information, and seniors' contributions to the community.

Although the center focuses on several areas of elderly care, there are often instances when the different disciplines can be addressed jointly through ongoing research. Current research focusing on mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is funded by Alzheimer's Association, touches on family gerontology and health and aging. The research has discovered that families need information about changes in memory, help to identify effective coping strategies, and support for the social and emotional changes they are experiencing. As a result, the center created a research-based guide for elders and families.

In the area of elder rights, the center works on policy to address abuse and provision of community services. Pamela Teaster, a former doctoral student at the center, drafted the public guardianship legislation for Virginia. In conjunction with the Virginia Department of Aging, the center is assessing the current and future need for public guardians. The center also is assisting with the evaluation of the ''No Wrong Door/Aging and Disability Resource Center'' program to improve how information is gathered from clients who need more than one service.


Students get hands-on experience assisting older adults. Student activities within the center have been hands-on from the beginning.

The center also has an educational component. ''We have been awarding graduate certificates since 1985,'' said Blieszner. ''The center's graduate certificate is one of the first programs awarded the Program of Merit distinction by the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. Students in many majors across campus, such as architecture, urban studies, psychology, hospitality, education, human development, sociology, and biomedical science, enroll in a program of graduate study and conduct research that helps them connect their major to gerontology. In any given year, we have 15 to 20 certificate students.''

Student activities have been hands-on from the beginning, when a three-credit Project Home Repair Field Experience course was conceived as the best way to inform students of the social issues and underlying poverty and aging problems in Appalachia. ''Our educational programs prepare researchers, educators, and human service professionals for careers addressing the needs of older adults and improving their quality of life,'' Blieszner said.

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Coping and caring - not packaging - define family

The phrase ''the American family'' probably conjures up the image of a mom and a dad, a few children, and their trusted dog. Research by professors Katherine Allen, Rosemary Blieszner, and Karen Roberto shows a different picture of the typical American family. One finding is that older adults have experienced extensive structural diversity in their own lives and in their children's lives. 

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