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College celebrates 10 years of healthy aging research

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The College of Public Health and Human Sciences and its Center for Healthy Aging Research (CHAR) celebrated the center’s 10th anniversary April 1 with a number of high-profile guests, including Don and Jo Anne Petersen and Rep. Peter DeFazio.

About 100 guests attended the celebration, which featured presentations on the latest gerontology research from the CPHHS, as well as from colleagues at Portland State University, the University of Oregon, the Oregon Research Institute and Oregon Health & Science University. CHAR’s anniversary preceded the 39th annual OSU Gerontology Conference held Thursday and Friday. Once again, the conference drew a full house of aging professionals across the state.

Pictured from left to right are Jo Anne Petersen; Karen Hooker, founding CHAR director and co-director of the college’s School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences; Don Petersen; and CHAR Director Carolyn Aldwin. Both Karen and Carolyn have been with the center since 2005; Karen served as director for nine years.

Pictured from left to right are Jo Anne Petersen; Karen Hooker, founding CHAR director and co-director of the college’s School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences; Don Petersen; and CHAR Director Carolyn Aldwin. Both Karen and Carolyn have been with the center since 2005; Karen served as director for nine years.

Jo Anne Petersen, a college alumna, created two endowed positions in gerontology: CHAR’s Jo Anne Leonard Endowed Director, held by Carolyn Aldwin, and the Jo Anne Leonard Petersen Endowed Chair in Gerontology and Family Studies, held by the center’s founding director, Karen Hooker.

“Jo Anne is part of a nine-child family, and she and her siblings helped her parents when they were getting older,” Don Petersen said. “She had the feeling that there should be a way to improve the general approach to dealing with aging. At the time, there wasn’t a school that specifically studied it, so she thought there should be a more concerted effort. It’s becoming a bigger issue all the time.”

The Petersens met at OSU more than 60 years ago while Jo Anne was studying home economics. Don was only able to attend his freshman year at OSU before the start of World War II. Both are pleased with the work being done within CHAR, and Don Petersen said he was impressed by the way the university has become a professionally recognized institution in health sciences and also with the role that women have achieved that would not have been possible when he was younger.

DeFazio has visited the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the past to talk to faculty and students and said he was impressed with the center and the work it does today.

CPHHS Dean Tammy Bray (right) awards Center for Healthy Aging Research Director Carolyn Aldwin with a key to the center.

CPHHS Dean Tammy Bray (right) presents Center for Healthy Aging Research Director Carolyn Aldwin with a key to the center.

“It’s exciting to see this work being done. We are currently at 13 percent of U.S. citizens over the age of 65, and by 2030 this will increase to 18 percent, so this is important,” DeFazio said.

He added that the event held a close place in his heart, as he holds a master’s degree in public administration and gerontology and worked as a gerontologist before becoming a U.S. Representative. He also helped to create the first Older Americans Act in the Pacific Northwest and was a part of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Aging before the House pulled it.

At the anniversary event, DeFazio spoke about his hopes to reduce institutionalization of older adults, as well as the roles of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and the problems that arise in each of these programs. He also addressed the impact that research can have with helping to extend the lives of seniors.

Among student researchers who participated in the event was Eric Cerino, a doctoral student in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), who works within the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program for PhD students.

The CHAR 10-year anniversary event concluded with a wine and cheese poster presentation.

The CHAR 10-year anniversary event concluded with a wine and cheese poster presentation.

IGERT allows for an interdisciplinary approach to aging sciences, with students from biology, computer science, human development, public health, sociology, bioengineering and psychology.

With Jasmin Yaeger, another HDFS student, Cerino presented a study on the effects of dog ownership with lowered systolic blood pressure in adults 60 and older.

They found that dog ownership significantly lowers systolic blood pressure, though the mechanism in which it occurs is still unknown. In the future, the group plans to look into other potential biomarkers that dog ownership may affect.

“I’ve always been interested in gerontology,” he said. “Part of it was my family. I’ve always been close to my grandparents, and I wanted to be a part of something that helped people, so this was a good fit for me.”

Read The Daily Barometer’s version of this story.