Faculty contribute to new “Handbook of Theories of Aging”

Handbook of Theories of Aging

Co-editors Rick Settersten and Vern Bengston

A new edition of the “Handbook of Theories of Aging” comes around every decade, and Professor and Editor Rick Settersten now understands why: It takes almost three years to produce!

“We’re proud of the cast and content,” Rick says. “The 2016 edition has 35 chapters by 75 of the most highly respected researchers in gerontology today.”

Because theories answer the “why” and “how” of what we’re interested in, the handbook highlights contemporary explanations for aging, Rick says, whether at the level of cells or societies. “When we have good explanations, we can also better design prevention and intervention efforts to improve human aging.”

“It was great fun to be on the front lines, learning about the scientific leaps in the four disciplines that have been part of the handbook from the beginning — biology, psychology, social sciences, and policy and practice. The chapters in each of these areas are nice windows into current thinking about topics outside of our own niches.

“One of the most exciting things was to see firsthand how big the leaps have been in transdisciplinary work, especially when it comes to health processes and outcomes, and to see the influence of a life-course perspective. It reinforces how much the very things we’re doing in our college are advancing our fields.

“What I most love about this edition is a new section called ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Personal Perspectives on Theory Development in Aging.’ In it, senior gerontologists give readers an intimate backstage view into the evolution of ideas in their fields. Their essays contain wonderful examples of the personal and social aspects of science, and how even the most prominent and productive scholars face challenges with self-confidence, rejection and failure. They also show the rewards of having courageous ideas that, with perseverance, ultimately changed the course of gerontology.

“It was my honor to co-edit the handbook with Vern Bengtson, who is a former president of the Gerontological Society of America and one of the field’s pioneers. In fact, I can remember reading with great excitement his and Jim Birren’s predecessor to the handbook— ‘Emergent Theories of Aging’ — as a graduate student in 1988. My younger self could never have imagined that nearly 30 years later I would be co-editing it with him!

CPHHS Professor Carolyn Aldwin also co-authored a chapter with one of our former HDFS (Human Development and Family Studies) PhD students, Heidi Igarashi. And Bethany Godlewski, one of my current HDFS doctoral students, co-authored a chapter with me.” Interested readers can learn more about the book here.