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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2013 / 04 

Expert in aging to discuss ways elderly stay sharp for 35th anniversary of Center of Gerontology

April 10, 2013

A distinguished scholar and nationally recognized expert in the field of aging and cognition will deliver the keynote lecture for the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology’s 35th anniversary today.

Elizabeth Stine-Morrow, a professor of educational psychology, and psychology, with the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, explores whether engagement, defined as the investment of personal resources over time in activities and experience, is beneficial for lifelong cognitive health, according to center director Karen Roberto.

Stine-Morrow’s subject, “Use It or Lose It: Engagement as a Pathway to Cognitive Health,” resonates in popular and scientific circles as with growing urgency to find practical solutions for people to maintain their mental sharpness as they grow older, said Roberto, who also directs the Institute for Society, Culture, and the Environment.

Mental sharpness shows patterns of both loss and gain through adulthood, she said. While memory capacity, computational speed, and executive control of attention may decline, continued growth may take place in verbal ability, knowledge, and the ability to adapt culturally.

Stine-Morrow’s research program has been focused on understanding the implications of these changes in basic capacities for continued learning and how habitual engagement in learning engenders cognitive vitality.

In addition to Stine-Morrow’s lecture  — slated for 12:15 p.m. today at the Virginia Tech Inn and Skelton Conference Center — the Center for Gerontology’s 35th anniversary will include recognition of scholarship recipients and students who have earned a Graduate Certificate in Gerontology.

Center for Gerontology core faculty and faculty affiliates conduct a wide range of research in subjects ranging from caregiving and coping strategies, elder financial abuse, and ways to improve the lives of baby boomers and older adults.

“More than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day,” said Robert W. Walters, vice president for research at Virginia Tech. “This unprecedented growth in the numbers of people reaching retirement age suggests the need for basic research and translational science in all domains of life — health and physical functioning, mental health and happiness, housing, finances, family relations, employment and retirement, leisure pursuits, religiosity, and technology advances. The Center's faculty and graduate students are making significant contributions to advancing knowledge and practice in many of these areas.”

In addition to the center’s core faculty, more than 60 faculty affiliates contribute to the center’s initiatives.

Their work contributes to disease prevention and management, reduction of slips and falls, better service delivery, enhanced family and intergenerational relationships, and better approaches to caregiving, housing, and elder abuse, Roberto said.

The center also supports the mission of the university and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences through its instruction and outreach. It has been awarding the Graduate Certificate in Gerontology since 1985, according to Alumni Distinguished Professor of Human Development Rosemary Blieszner, the center’s associate director. The program has been recognized as a Program of Merit distinction by the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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