SFU Gerontology celebrates 40 years of research and education on aging

April 03, 2023

At this year’s FASS Forum, the Simon Fraser University Department of Gerontology and the Gerontology Research Centre (GRC) were featured.

In honour of the 40th anniversary, four faculty members presented at the event. Habib Chaudhury, Professor and Chair of the Department of Gerontology; Andrew Wister, Professor and Director of the Gerontology Research Centre; Theodore D. Cosco, Associate Professor; and Theresa Pauly, Assistant Professor. The GRC and department were spotlighted by Andrew and Habib, and Theodore and Theresa  provided a brief overview of their respective areas of research.

The GRC was established in 1982 under Gloria Gutman supported by a SSHRC Population Aging Strategic grant and enhanced by numerous generous endowments, including Imperial Oil, Shoppers Drugs Mart, the Tong Louie Living lab, and many individual benefactors. This was followed by the Department of Gerontology in 1983. Since its inception, the GRC has served as a hub for researchers in aging generating high-quality research and knowledge mobilization. The flagship research project of the GRC is the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), the largest research platform of its kind in Canada and one of a handful that collects interdisciplinary data from cell to society. The GRC supports two data collection labs, and several CLSA research clusters who have contributed significantly to the generation of more than 250 publications and numerous research projects.

“Over the last 40 years, the GRC has expanded its research themes. The Social Prescribing of Aging Research and Knowledge (SPARK) framework connects all of these themes, which addresses the needs of older adults through intersectoral partnerships and fostering integration in community and health care systems. Founded on a strength-based resilience and aging theoretical model, social prescribing recognizes older people as active agents in their health and well-being, but also that there are inequities in harnessing the spectrum of available social, technological and community resources,” says Andrew Wister, Director of the Gerontology Research Centre.

The Department of Gerontology at SFU has provided interdisciplinary training and engaged in cutting-edge research to enhance the well-being of older adults, while shaping the next generation of gerontologists. With an emphasis on community-engaged experiential learning, the Department of Gerontology equips students for success in the professional and academic fields of aging.

"Over the last 40 years, the Department of Gerontology has made significant growth in developing new academic programs. We have four programs, minor, post-baccalaureate diploma, MA and PhD that have generated hundreds of gerontology professionals in Canada over the past decades. The research productivity of our faculty and research staff has increased manifold with the current external funding per faculty/year as one of the highest at Simon Fraser University," says Habib Chaudhury, Chair of the Department of Gerontology.

Comprised of faculty with diverse research areas, they are each addressing prominent issues that exist in society. Furthermore, the interdisciplinary nature of their research cultivates a sense of trust with their community partners, which enables them to reach vulnerable populations and expand their social impact.

"My research aims to provide insights into the complex interplay between social relationships, health, and aging. Findings can inform interventions and programs that promote healthy aging and enhance social connections, ultimately improving older adults' well-being and quality of life,” says Theresa Pauly, Assistant Professor.

As the GRC and Department of Gerontology celebrates 40 years of research and education on aging, their vision of enhancing the well-being of older adults has remained constant.

“To ensure the future of gerontology, I think we need to look beyond gerontology. As researchers, I think we need to expand our methodological and disciplinary horizons beyond the confines of traditional social gerontology into complementary fields, such as psychology and epidemiology, alongside increasing collaborations with non-academic partners. At the Precision Mental Health Lab our team consists of researchers and partners from myriad disciplines both within and outside of academia, for example, industry and non-profit collaborators, all working towards the goal of helping people be happier and healthier for longer,” says Theodore D. Cosco, Associate Professor.

Reaching this milestone is a testament to the comprehensive programs that the Department of Gerontology at SFU offers. As the aging population rapidly grows, gerontology proves to be more relevant than ever.