As population ages, interest in gerontology increases

In addition to more traditional areas of study such as history and psychology, U students can also attend graduate school in the field of gerontology, the study of aging, which has been available through the Gerontology Center at the U since 1972.

The gerontology program has some of the highest enrollment numbers among graduate-level courses on campus.

“Several hundred students have earned graduate and undergraduate certificates from the University of Utah Gerontology Center and enrollment continues to grow,” according to the center’s Web site.

About 32 years ago, the center began as an administrative association between five colleges and universities in Utah.

In 1987, the center was recognized as one of the leading gerontology programs in the Intermountain West region by the Encyclopedia of Aging.The center’s master’s degree program became only the second graduate degree program in the region when it was approved in 1993.

The primary areas of specialization in gerontology are research and evaluation, long-term care and aging service administration, educational gerontology and lifelong learning, and geriatric care management.

The need for workers specializing in elder care will likely increase in the upcoming decades, according to Scott Wright, an associate of the U’s gerontology program.

“The ‘age wave’-aging baby boomers-will be a major social and cultural influence in the United States in that same timeframe,” Wright said.

According to the Health Sciences Web site, Americans age 65 or older numbered more than 35 million in 2002.

Students currently enrolled in the gerontology program represent about 25 different academic backgrounds, formerly specializing in everything from business to fine arts.

The center’s faculty also has a diverse academic background. Wright has a background in human development and life course theories, and said that “gerontology is and will be the focus for many academic and community projects in the next 20 years and beyond.”

Bruce Rigby, associate instructor at the center and College of Nursing, said that due to the increasing population of those older than 65, gerontology will be an in demand field.

“It is our belief that even some background in the field of aging can be an important asset to large numbers of students at the University of Utah, regardless of their majors,” Rigby said.

“There are many issues within the field of aging, ranging from ethics to elder care, from genomics to geriatrics, and all of these will call for increased knowledge and application,” Wright said.

Aside from an increase in gerontology career opportunities, the impact of the tripling of people age 65 and older in the next 100 years might be felt at home as well.

“We believe that elder-care issues will be a major issue in the lives of aging individuals and their families,” Wright said.

“More and more people are finding that they have family members who are getting older and a lot of people are going to be in that situation [where they have to care for the elderly,” said Rebecca Burrage of the College of Nursing.

The U has so far done relatively well in acknowledging this increase in the elderly population as an important issue. Along with health care Web pages featuring expanded material, the U’s Elder Care Information and Referral Service offers personalized and private answers to questions about aging .

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