seal  Purdue News

August 26, 2003

Center provides more opportunities to study life course

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The program that has encouraged research about robotic dogs, Parkinson's disease and exercise among older adults is Purdue University's latest center – the Center on Aging and the Life Course.

"With such a fast growing, aging population it is very important for Purdue faculty research and student learning to focus on the life course," said Toby Parcel, dean of the School of Liberal Arts. "We are excited to see that the center will foster interdisciplinary collaboration across campus and that Purdue's faculty will have more resources available to be a leader in aging research."

Purdue's gerontology program was created in 1996, and during the past five years outside grants totaled nearly $20 million for faculty members from different disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, child development and family studies, engineering, veterinary medicine, and nutrition, to studying aging issues. Research supported by the program includes Michael Flynn's immunology research on older women and Jessica Huber's speech research in Parkinson's patients. The program also supports an annual symposium – scheduled this year for Sept. 18 – so health care professionals and the Purdue community can learn about the latest research in gerontology.

While programs at Purdue focus on educational opportunities, centers are more research driven.

Kenneth Ferraro, director of the center, said although dozens of disciplinary approaches to the study of aging exist at Purdue, the purpose of the center is to foster more interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, he would like to see more faculty members cross disciplines, such as a nursing and a veterinary professor who study the role of robotic dogs in the lives of older adults.

"The center can strengthen research on aging by supporting more interdisciplinary research collaborations. Interdisciplinary teams are often more innovative because scientists can blend expertise from multiple fields," said Ferraro, a sociology professor. "The center also can help the university attract new faculty because of opportunities for research collaboration and infrastructural support."

There are more than 50 faculty members from 22 departments participating in the Center on Aging and the Life Course.

"Purdue's focus – the prevention of disease and disability to optimize functional independence later in life – will set us apart from other centers," Ferraro said. "The center emphasizes the importance of studying aging the 'long way.' Too many investigators study only older people, but Purdue's center encourages research on the aging process. Old age is often seen as a separate phase of life, unrelated to earlier life. By contrast, the Purdue center promotes research on how experiences accumulate over the life course to shape us later in life."

The gerontology program will remain as a unit of the center and continue to offer an interdisciplinary minor to graduate students.

This year's fall symposium examines how adverse childhood experiences influence adult health. The symposium will be from 1-5:30 p.m. on Sept. 18 in the Purdue Memorial Union's West Faculty Lounge.

Topics include "Long-term Consequences of Childhood Physical Abuse" and "The Relation of Adult Health and Well-being to Unrecognized Childhood Experiences." The speakers are Dr. Vincent Felitti, from the department of preventive medicine at Southern California Permanente Medical Group; Robert Hauser, Vilas Research Professor of Sociology and director of the Center for Demography of Health and Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Laura Sands, professor of nursing from Purdue; and Kristen Spring, from the Department of Sociology and Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin.

The registration deadline is Aug. 30. The conference is free for Purdue faculty, staff and students, as well as individuals 65 years and older. There is a $40 registration fee for others. For more information, contact Margaret Favorite, project coordinator, at (765) 494-5404 or For registration information, contact Susan Umberger, (765) 494-9499, (800) 359-2968 or

The symposium is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging and Purdue University. A reception for the new center will follow the symposium.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Kenneth Ferraro, (765) 494-4707,

Toby Parcel, (765) 494-3661,

Margaret Favorite, project coordinator for the Center on Aging and the Life Course, (765) 494-5404,

Michael Flynn, (765) 496-3329,

Jessica Huber, (765) 494-3796,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Note to Journalists: Contact Margaret Favorite for a schedule of the Life Course Inequality symposium at (765) 494-5404,


* To the Purdue News and Photos Page