Teaching Gerontology and Aging Studies to 163,000

I recently watched this video of Dr. Sebastian Thrun who gave the keynote speech (http://events.mediasite.com/Mediasite/Play/82b693c44d94441ba4b9c08c75df31351d) at the Sloan Consortium annual meeting. Dr. Thrun is an Artificial Intelligence researcher and educator at Stanford University. He describes his experiences changing an academic course in Artificial Intelligence from a classroom experience for 200 students to an online course. More than 163,000 people took the course. From this experience he went on to help found Udacity (http://www.udacity.com/). Udacity is an educational organization with the goal of bringing knowledge to more and more people.

So now I’m wondering how I can do the same for Gerontology and Aging Studies. There is such a dearth of knowledge about how best to integrate growing numbers of older people into the society, how to support people in 20-30 years of retirement, and, perhaps most importantly, how to care for those among them who need care. Most of us have had little training in caregiving. Even most health care providers know little about how aging interacts with  disease let alone how best to work with elders to keep them healthy, wealthy, and to tap their wisdom. Lots of work to do, and if anyone has ideas on how we can reach out to 160,000 in one course, please let me know.


Revealing a Secret: The Aging Network

I love secrets – especially when I’m one of the ones in the know. But this secret needs to be shared. There is a nationwide network of places to go to help you find services for your older friends and relatives. It’s called the Aging Network and it was set up under a law called the Older Americans Act, first passed in 1965. The Older Americans Act established an agency for older persons at each level of government in the U.S.
At the Federal level, the Administration on Aging’s role is to coordinate programs for older persons among the agencies in Washington and to lead the rest of the aging network in helping society assist older persons.
At the state level, each state has a State Unit on Aging. These agencies develop programs and advocate for older persons needs in state government and lead the Area Agencies on Aging in that state.
In localities around the nation there are Area Agencies on Aging who provide assistance and services directly to older persons in their communities. There are 655 Area Agencies on Aging. They have different names based on their history and community, but there is one that serves every locality in the U.S.
So you are or wherever your loved older friends and relatives live, there is an agency you can call to begin getting needed help. There is a website at the Administration on Aging that will direct you to the right Area Agency based on zipcode, city or county.
(See http://www.eldercare.gov/Eldercare/Public/Home.asp .)
Area Agencies provide a broad range of services:
• Information and referral (I&R)
• Outreach services
• Transportation
• Care management
• Employment services
• Senior centers
• Congregate meals programs
• Adult day services
• Volunteer programs
• Homemaker and Home Health services
• Home-delivered mealsr
• Chore
• Telephone reassurance
• Friendly visiting
• Energy assistance
• Emergency response
• Personal care
• Respite care
Unfortunately, resources available to these agencies are limited. They can not serve all the elders who are in need. By law they do have to concentrate on those in greatest economic and social need.
But they provide information to everyone. So Area Agencies are a great place to start if you are seeking help for an older person. If they can not help, they can direct you to a geriatric case manager or another agency that may be able to provide the services your elder needs. This is especially true if for those out-of-town relatives and friends who are attempting to assist older loved ones through long-distance caregiving.
Website resources: The Administration on Aging
The National Association of State Units on Aging is an association of State Units on Aging that supports these agencies to achieve their mission. Here’s a site that lists all the State Units on Aging. http://www.nasua.org/SUAMembers.cfm#tx
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging does the same for these local community organizations. http://www.mfaaa.org/AreaAging.aspx
Political issues to watch: The Aging Network is severely underfunded, yet they are a logical resource for a coordinated system of long-term care services. Watch how the Nursing Home Owners and other providers of long-term care and home and community-based care agencies struggle over meager resources and reimbursements for long-term health care.
Business Opportunities: Consulting opportunities at all three levels especially as the Area Agencies become more sophisticated and stretch into other health and social services arenas. They will need expert guidance. Service provision – check the list of services above. Although some Area Agencies provide their services using their staff, others contract for all services. If you provide one of these services, Area Agencies may be a source of a stable contract.