Our Story/Center for Healthy Aging
Research centers in the College of Health and Human Development are dedicated to improving human health through innovative research. This is the story of the Center for Healthy Aging, which supports research, education, and outreach that promotes emotional, physical, and cognitive health in older adults and their families.
The center’s vision is to translate cutting-edge aging science into programs and products that transform old age into a long life.
“Every child, teenager, and adult experiences aging,” said Martin Sliwinski, center director. “Our society has invested tremendous resources in developing and implementing evidenced-based programs to help young people ‘grow up’ in ways that promote their future health and well-being. Much less effort has been devoted to research efforts that guide programs to help people ‘grow old’ despite the fact that we all spend much more of our time growing old than growing up.”
The center’s research impacts everyday people in numerous ways.
The Healthy Aging Community Lecture series, now in its fourth year, consists of Penn State faculty members presenting lectures in the community on relevant topics, including how to maintain well-being, health, and autonomy as aging occurs. Often the lectures, held four times each year, are filled to capacity.
“These lectures educate about ‘cutting-edge’ scientific research on aging-related topics and provides attendees with tools and practical knowledge that they can implement in their daily lives,” Sliwinski said.
Another program, Education of the Geriatric Workforce, allows the center to collaborate with faculty and graduate students from the Departments of Human Development and Family Studies; Kinesiology; Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management; and the School of Nursing to educate health care workers about important lifestyle risk factors, such as sedentary behavior, social engagement, and leisure, and how they impact the health of older adults.
This program, supported by a grant from Health Resources and Services Administration, will take place in workshops that offer continuing education credit and will be made available to the geriatric workforce via the web. As part of this effort, the center will train community nurses to implement an intervention to reduce sedentary behavior in seniors in order to improve health and well-being.
The Center is also the recipient of a recent $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health focused on the “Science of Behavior Change.” This project involves an interdisciplinary team of faculty from Biobehavioral Health, Kinesiology, the College of Medicine, and Human Development and Family Studies. Its goal is to develop an innovative tool that uses mobile technology, such as smartphones, to reduce the effects of everyday stress, improve sleep quality, and help people stay more physically active.
“Our researchers are looking for ways to keep people independent and preserve their quality of life by improving driver safety and how families manage chronic illness,” Sliwinski said. “Our faculty and students are learning about how the little things we do, or don’t do, in our daily lives, such as sitting too much or ruminating about arguments, can accumulate and exert a dramatic impact on our health. There are few societal and global challenges that will have as wide-reaching consequences as population aging. Penn State, through our center, is well positioned to invest whatever it takes to be a world leader in aging research.”