GVSU conference explores aging in the 21st century boosts 'thinking'

January 31, 2010
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The Fifth Annual Art and Science of Aging Conference this month at Grand Valley State University will explore issues affecting the baby boomer generation as its members reach retirement age.

The event, which is open to the public but carries continuing education credits for social workers, is titled “Staying Healthy, Wealthy and Wise in Hard Economic Times.” It is scheduled for 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 12 in the DeVos Center on GVSU’s downtown Pew Campus. The cost is $20, or $15 for students or those over age 60, and includes lunch. The conference is co-sponsored by Gerontology Network.

The headline speaker is W. Andrew Achenbaum, a professor of history and social work at the University of Houston. He will address the impact of the economic downturn and the unique social experiences of baby boomers as they age. His talk is titled “Harvesting the Fruits of a Lifetime: Lessons for Living and Thriving in Tough Times.”

An author and frequent speaker, Achenbaum holds a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan. Prior to moving to Texas, he served as senior research scientist at U-M’s Institute of Gerontology. He spent two years as chair of the National Council on Aging.

“They’ve lived through a very turbulent era,” GVSU Professor Priscilla Kimboko said of baby boomers. “The Korean war, the era of the ’60s, the Vietnam War — over their lifetimes, they have lived through a lot of tough times.”

All of those societal occurrences have shaped this generation differently than those who experienced the Great Depression and World War II, she said, and their expectations of retirement are different.

The conference is built around three tracks, Kimboko said: health, wealth and wisdom.

The sessions regarding health include a presentation from Kirkhof School of Nursing Dean Cynthia McCurren about her research on depression and aging; social supports for the elderly; and a demonstration of exercise styles in the traditions of the Eastern and Western worlds. (“Bring your sneakers,” Kimboko advised.)

The wealth track features Better Business Bureau information about financial scams that target older persons; Lauretta K. Murphy, an elder law and estate planning attorney for Miller Johnson, discussing planning for later life; and the director of a creative housing program for senior citizens in Washtenaw County.

The sessions on wisdom will cover information about improving brain function; a local program that utilizes the leadership knowledge and volunteer power of senior citizens to help the homeless; and intergenerational relationships.

The day also features a discussion with Gleaves Whitney, director of GVSU’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. Also, local photographer Adam Bird will present a video that features interviews with people who lived through the Great Depression. GVSU students will be on hand to offer information about their research into aging issues.

“It’s not really just for faculty and students; it’s really for the public and professionals who work with older adults, to enrich their thinking,” Kimboko said.

For more information, visit www.gvsu.edu/gerontology

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