Passion and Potential Face Off with Challenges of Aging

In addition to the aging of its baby boomers, North Carolina’s population boom of the past few decades has included plenty of relocating middle-aged people as well as retirees attracted by the mild climate and amenities. The combination has raised the state’s median age by more than two years over the past decade, and the number of seniors in North Carolina is expected to continue growing in the coming years.

The aging population presents North Carolina with various economic, social, and medical challenges, especially for the oldest old, those with chronic medical conditions, and individuals with limited resources. It also offers opportunities to tap into the potential of older adults, says Dr. Luci Bearon, an associate professor in the Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences. A social gerontologist for more than 30 years, Bearon says later life can be a time to grow and develop, discover new passions and purpose, and continue to contribute to family, community, and society.

Research has shown, she says, that we can prevent, delay, reverse, or compensate for some physical and mental declines that we assume are inevitable parts of aging. “People can stay well and active for longer periods,” she says. “Even the impact of most difficult challenges can be lessened by supportive services and the resilience of individuals and
families. That’s why we must continue to consider improvements in social policy and programs.”

NC State researchers are working to help older adults achieve their potential by addressing the physical, mental, and social issues they face. Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies Terri Lomax says the effort extends across the entire university. “The College of Humanities and Social Sciences has identified aging as a major research thrust,” Lomax says. “Research and extension faculty in the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Physical and Mathematical Sciences are breaking new ground in mitigating the effects of aging on the mind, body, and families. The Colleges of Engineering and Design are developing innovative assistive devices. And the College of Management is doing extensive work on the economic aspects of aging, such as retirement planning.”

We can prevent, delay, reverse, or compensate for some physical and mental declines that we assume are inevitable.

Bearon points out that aging research has become more interdisciplinary in recent years and that the field seems to have achieved a critical mass that is beginning to draw more funding from both government and private groups. “Much greater investment is needed,” she adds.

This issue of RESULTS highlights just some of the important NC State research efforts toward making aging a happier, healthier experience.

 

Dr. Luci Bearon, a social gerontologist, says later life can be a time to grow and develop, discover new passions and purpose, and contribute to family, community, and society.