November 10, 1998
KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University is teaming up with a federal agency to meet the changing needs of a U.S. population that is steadily aging and becoming more diverse.
A $150,000 grant awarded recently by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources Service Administration, will fund the first year of a project designed to improve the preparation of University students to work with senior citizens, especially those in under-served rural, multi-cultural communities. Similar grant amounts will fund Project AGE in its second and third years, for an expected total award of nearly $450,000.
Project AGE, the Alliance for Gerontology Education, is using an interdisciplinary approach to expand teaching and place a greater focus on the needs of the rapidly growing, culturally diverse geriatric population. The project came about after a committee of WMU faculty and administrators suggested that the University fine-tune its curriculum to better meet the demands of an ever-graying society.
The result of their suggestions is a project that pairs geriatric education efforts with other core allied health disciplines. Gerontology specialists at WMU are working to prepare both graduate and undergraduate students for professional practice with older citizens. Kalamazoo Valley Community College faculty also are collaborating on the project.
Students will not only learn about aging and culture, but will also hear about devices that can make life easier for seniors, from low-tech page magnifiers to high-tech digitized hearing aids, sophisticated recreational equipment and computerized "smart houses." Students also will examine prevention of disability through diet and exercise.
"We want to teach students about the whole range of assisted technologies plus how to use technology themselves to get information," says Sandra O. Glista, a clinical educator/professional specialist in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology. "So we're going to be developing and using Web-based instruction to help them learn how to get information."
The program will infuse knowledge of geriatric issues throughout the curriculum, says Glista, who is co-directing the project with Dr. Maija Petersons, associate professor of family and consumer sciences.
"We're not initiating new courses," Glista says. "We're going to take the classes that are already in
existing curriculums and expand them to look at the total life span so that we get broader dissemination of the information to all students."
The project's other features include clinical practicum placements that emphasize teamwork, with students working in teams of three or more; a continuing education component in the second and third years; and a newsletter.
WMU has a longstanding gerontology program that offers certification for people with degrees in other areas, Glista says. But many students do not obtain the certification because of time and money constraints. In addition, students who do become certified have a good theoretical foundation in gerontology, but sometimes lack practical experience dealing with seniors. Project AGE should help to solve both problems.
Ultimately, program organizers hope students will go beyond their newfound knowledge and actually opt to work with the elderly after they graduate. That could very well happen, Glista says.
Four years ago, Glista won a grant from the same agency to improve the preparation of graduate-level speech and language pathologists and audiologists to work with the elderly.
"What I have found out is that we have had an increased number of students seek and get employment in settings where elderly people are cared for compared to prior years," Glista says.
Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org
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