Changing the Perception of Aging

Jul 2, 2019

Dr. Lisa Hall

One hundred percent of living humans are aging every day. That shouldn't surprise any of us. But did you know that 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day? By 2030, 20% of the U.S. population will be older adults, which will meet or outnumber children.

Dr. Lisa Hall, coordinator of the Gerontology program within the psychology department at Missouri State University, is here to tell us how that demographic shift is changing the world we live in.

"In Springfield, we have so many community members who are really concerned about the community and making the most of its members. And so we have some of these fantastic programs such as Give Five," she said. 

This program takes retired seniors around the community to introduce them to several nonprofits. If they choose to volunteer, they commit to just five hours a month.

"But what they're really trying to do is bring the success, the creativity, the work ethic of older adults to the community, and to the younger workers, and to the younger professionals," said Hall. "We are trying to ride the trend, that demographic trend, that indicates that there's so much creativity out there from people who are 55, 60, 65 plus at this point in time."

At MSU, where the gerontology program has been around since 1980, students can choose to major or minor in gerontology. Although the training could prepare someone to work in a social services role or in a facility geared toward the aging population, Hall says professionals across industries could find the knowledge useful, both personally and professionally.

"No matter what the job is, people will be working with older adults, and that's becoming increasingly true," Hall said. "People are living longer and many of them are living in a more healthy way. So we have so many older adults who are absolutely not institutionalized. Only about 4% of people 65 and older are in skilled nursing facilities. Society really needs to adjust their thinking about where older adults are, because so many older adults are incredibly productive and creative members of society."

Thanks to community partners and active alumni from the program, Hall sees that Springfield is becoming a model retirement city. We are building programs to keep older Americans active and engaged in the community.

She sees people looking at the positives of aging. People are asking, "What can we contribute?" instead of simply tracking the decline of abilities. 

"There has been kind of an evolution in aging studies. Originally it was from a biological perspective, and when we simply focus on the biological aspects of aging, it's rather negative. We focus on the decline, the kinds of things that we lose," Hall said.

"Gerontology, the study of aging is multidisciplinary. So when sociology and when psychology make contributions in this field, we start to see that there's so much more to life than just the physical body. We can focus on relationships, we can focus on creativity, we can focus on so many things that can actually improve over the life course. And so it gives a whole new meaning and purpose to people."