The Third Third is under increasing scrutiny. Academic scrutiny. For a graduate of the sixties who once wrote editorials demanding that our college make its education more “relevant,” this is great news. It may also be really good news for those who come after us in this aging process: new studies will reveal what they -- and the world -- are in for as the years add up, and scholars will be thinking about policies and programs to address those changes.
Columbia University, for example, has recently established a university-wide interdisciplinary aging center and named as its first director a German scientist, Ursula M. Staudinger, Ph.D. The[ Robert N. Butler Aging Center] (Butler was a pioneer in multi-disciplinary aging studies at Columbia) has as its mission “to strengthen the knowledge base needed to optimize aging for each individual, as well as to build a society that supports longer, healthier lives.”
Under Mailman School of Public Health Dean Linda P. Fried, M.D., MPH, studies already underway at Columbia include a focus on frailty as a medical condition, approaches to harnessing the benefits of an aging society, and the design of health-promoting roles and activities for older adults. In previous positions Dr. Staudinger has worked on understanding the basis of productive aging and lifespan psychology.
There’s a different approach to the “study” of aging on the West coast and online, where the University of Southern California - Davis advertises a [Master of Aging Services Management] degree through its [School of Gerontology], described as the oldest and largest school of its type in the world. USC’s programs study the human lifespan “by exploring the biological, psychological, sociological, political, medical and business dimensions of adult life,” and prepare its graduates “to respond effectively to the needs of an aging population.”
The needs it then turns its attention to are the services aging -- I would say *aged* -- adults will pay for. From the USC School of Gerontology website: * “The U. S. Department of Labor has identified careers in aging as a high-growth industry over the next 10 years, with an exponential boom predicted in jobs to develop the infrastructure to support our increased population of older adults. . . . Opportunities in the booming aging services industry are limitless, including residential care facilities, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, hospice care, home care and home-delivered services, lifelong creative therapy programs and home modification programs.” *
This is true, of course -- boomers are aging and we do, statistically, have money to spend on our care -- but this build-up of infrastructure sounds not only crassly opportunistic, but an awful lot like the tired, old idea of wholesale warehousing of the aged, albeit in well-run warehouses. And while I may, indeed, come to appreciate the person who manages my old-age home (if it comes to that), for now I prefer to think (and to have scholars thinking) less about mere longevity and more about optimizing productive lives in the aging population and the potential that represents for society.
I would like to think, as Columbia seems to, that this “booming” population of aging adults represents as much potential for our society as it might a burden of care. USC is clearly dealing with the what-is -- a growing *aged* population that will probably need services -- whereas Columbia is examining the what-might-be if the *aging* population stays healthy longer and finds new ways to serve.
Stay tuned. It will be interesting to see what they all learn about us, and it really couldn’t be more relevant.
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