With the greying of the baby boomer generation, the number of older adults in America is growing dramatically and is expected to double by 2060, at which time nearly one in four Americans are projected to be 65 and older. Thus, it may not be surprising to learn that the nearly 50 million older adults in the United States already outnumber children age 5 and under, foreshadowing a worldwide population aging trend. In the vanguard of changing the way we age, Texas A&M has a new university-wide Center for Population Health and Aging

The center, with over 30 faculty affiliates from nine colleges across the Texas A&M campus, promotes optimal aging through innovations in research, education and practice that examine social, behavioral, economic, environmental and technological solutions linking academic and real-world clinical and community settings. Center faculty are already engaged in a variety of activities to promote chronic disease prevention and management; build healthy communities; explore interactions between health, aging and technology; improve geriatric care; evaluate economic and policy issues related to population aging; and grow the pipeline of experts in gerontology and geriatrics.  

We often hear, “Everything is bigger and better in Texas.” What does this mean in terms of the rapid population aging we are experiencing in our state? With more than 3 million adults 65 and older, Texas lays claim to being among the top three states with the largest number of older adults. Although Texas is also one of the “youngest” states regarding the median age of its population, the older Texas population is growing rapidly and is expected to triple between 2010 and 2050. One can look at these statistics with a gloom-and-doom perspective—noting an escalating need for health care and personal care services—or as an opportunity to explore new ways of looking at aging. Consistent with the popular adage that “70 is the new 50,” we need to look at our aging world through a new lens.  

Bigger is not always better. Many Texans are guilty of holding stereotypic perceptions of older people as “frail and dependent and set in their ways.” When these negative stereotypes are held by older adults themselves, it can lead to an increased risk for poor health and even mortality. 
 

Further, these stereotypes don’t recognize the tremendous variability in the older population and the fact that research from the Texas A&M School of Public Health confirms that older people are able and eager to be active partners in adopting more healthy lifestyles. For example, the Texas A&M School of Public Health, working in collaboration with the Brazos Valley Area Council on Aging and other clinical and community partners, promotes the delivery of evidence-based programs to improve older adults’ ability to manage their chronic conditions, reduce risks of falling and decrease burdens of caring for persons with dementia.  

Workshops offered through the Texas A&M Evidence-Based Program include the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, the Diabetes Self-Management Program, Cancer Thriving and Surviving, A Matter of Balance, Fit and Strong, Stress-Busting for Family Caregivers and Home Meds. These programs have already reached thousands of older Texans and younger caregivers and have been shown to provide better health outcomes, improve health care and demonstrate better value. A major challenge is to learn how to bring such successful programs to scale and sustain them over time.  

We have learned that you can indeed “teach an old dog new tricks,” but it takes an understanding of how to engage older adults in programs that promote healthy aging and how to design supportive environments, so the healthy choice is the easy choice—and achievable no matter what one’s age. For example, public health faculty are currently working with colleagues from the College of Architecture to better understand how living in Mueller, a planned activity-friendly community in Austin, Texas, can affect physical activity and other lifestyle factors which are closely tied to obesity and the progression of avoidable chronic diseases. With master planned communities coming to the Brazos Valley, we hope to explore these issues in our own backyard. 

With May being Older Americans Month, we want to emphasize the ways in which we can strive to be better. This year’s theme, “Age Out Loud,” gives voice to older Americans—while simultaneously raising awareness of vital aging issues of importance to all of us. We invite the community to celebrate

The newly openEd Center for Population Health and Aging is dedicated to: 

The center is dedicated to promoting successful aging through innovations in research, education and practice. Its faculty examine social, behavioral, economic, environmental and technological solutions which will link academic and real-world clinical and community settings. They also offer expertise in promoting health and wellness programs, chronic disease prevention and management, building healthy communities, and exploring interactions between health, aging and technology. They strive to improve geriatric care, evaluate policy issues related to population aging, grow the pipeline of experts in gerontology and geriatrics, and identify interventions for promoting healthy aging across the life course.

Older Americans Month and the grand opening of the Center for Population Health and Aging. But it’s important to go beyond this celebratory event and heed a more enduring call to action. Shed the stereotypes you hold about older people and think about aging in a new light.

Ask what you can do to promote healthy aging for yourself, your family and your community. Older adults can join one of the center’s workshops or make a pledge to engage in more healthy lifestyles on their own, recognizing that it’s never too late to benefit. Families can support their older loved ones by connecting with them either directly or remotely and learning how to provide needed care more effectively. And communities can recognize older adults as a valuable resource and design environments that foster health and well-being for all generations. Only in this way can we truly meet the challenges of an aging society.

Contact:

Karen Slater '88

Assistant Vice President for Development
Health Science Center
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