Academic journal article Family Relations

Resources for Advancing Family Gerontology Education and Practice*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Resources for Advancing Family Gerontology Education and Practice*

Article excerpt

Abstract: The unprecedented growth in the older adult population combined with increased scholarly interest in family dynamics has resulted in the gradual expansion of family gerontology as its own area of study. Consisting of both university faculty and practitioners, family gerontology educators integrate multiple disciplines in order to teach about later life families and are responsible for training diverse audiences. To increase awareness about family gerontology and encourage the advancement of this interdisciplinary field, we conducted a comprehensive review of educational resources specific to family gerontology. Our goal was to enable a wide range of educators to introduce or expand their emphasis on families in later life and to incorporate new resources, topics, and teaching strategies that promote family gerontology education.

Key Words: family gerontology, gerontology education, pedagogy, teaching resources.

In response to the demographic shift toward a larger aging population, a greater emphasis on gerontology education has been taking place. Unprecedented growth in the number of older adults has resulted in an increasing demand for information about the aging process and a critical need for trained educators, healthcare providers, and service delivery professionals (Anderson, 1999). Currently, there is a growing presence of gerontology education in areas such as recreation and leisure, social work, theology, marriage and family therapy, and Cooperative Extension (Barber & Lyness, 2001; Beland & Kapes, 2003; Cummings & DeCoster, 2003; Knapp & Elder, 2002; Nichols & Howard, 2002). One trend in gerontology education is to offer gerontology specialization opportunities grounded in separate disciplines (e.g., psychology, biology, social work) or combining multiple disciplines. Family gerontology, for example, is an emerging interdisciplinary specialization that combines gerontology, family studies, demography, psychology, and sociology (Walker, Manoogian-O'Dell, McGraw, & White, 2001).

The substantial increase in the older adult population, combined with the recognized influence of family relationships on aging, has led to greater appreciation for family gerontology. Utilizing multiple disciplines, family gerontologists examine the aging process, paying particular attention to family relationships (both intra- and intergenerational), as well as recognizing the broader social contexts in which individuals age. Concerns of family gerontologists can include a wide array of topics, for example, later life transitions (e.g., retirement, widowhood), the dynamics of family caregiving, intergenerational exchanges, spirituality in later life, and issues of diversity and gender within the context of aging families.

Formal and informal education on family gerontology topics is more prevalent as indicated by the number of university course offerings, graduate certification programs, professional training seminars, and community education programs. Those who teach about aging families represent a diverse group of professionals who work in a variety of settings. Faculty teach in university classrooms where they incorporate interactive teaching strategies, servicelearning formats, or use distance education technology (Blieszner & Artale, 2001; Jarrott & Blieszner, 2001; Piercy, 2000). Practitioners (i.e., social service educators, clinicians, aging network professionals) frequently teach in applied settings conducting professional seminars and trainings for those who work with older adults and their families. Finally, Extension educators teach in nontraditional community settings and target public audiences that are diverse in age, race, class, and education.

In order to support the advancement of family gerontology education and practice, we present a comprehensive review of educational resources specific to this interdisciplinary area of study. Given the diversity of contexts in which educators serve, those who may benefit from this content include family gerontology educators who teach lifespan or family gerontology courses at the university level, family gerontology educators who teach service professionals or the general public outside traditional classroom settings, and family science educators interested in incorporating gerontology content into their courses. …

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