Texas Aging and Longevity Center to focus on aging of different populations

Hannah Ortega

It’s in with the old at UT as the Texas Aging and Longevity Center kicks off today with an event at Patton Hall.

The center’s creation stemmed from UT’s Aging Network and the Portfolio in Aging and Health, which is the graduate training portion of the network, co-director Karen Fingerman said. As part of the UT Population Research Center, the organization will research the aging of populations from various ethnic, racial or cultural backgrounds, Fingerman said. 

“We focus on understanding how the population ages,” Fingerman said. “We’re interested in things like ethnic and racial minority groups and how that contributes to different patterns of aging.”

In addition to this broad focus on different populations aging, there are smaller groups conducting research on topics such as technology and aging, graduate research assistant Rachel Tessmer said. Other interests of the faculty include dementia care, depression in old age, aphasia and cerebrovascular disease, which can lead to strokes.

“(Fingerman) wanted to bring groups across campus who do similar types of research together, so she has one group where it’s faculty members who do anything related to … brain aging,” said Tessmer, communication sciences and disorders graduate student. “We’ll have people from communication sciences and disorders, we have a lot of people from pharmacy, people in psychology, so people who kind of come at brain aging from different perspectives — some from the cellular level, some from more of like a social aspect.”

The group joins similar centers at UT-Dallas and UT-San Antonio as a conductor of aging research in Texas. Aging research also takes place in Galveston and Houston, though Fingerman said it is more medically-focused.

Fingerman said the center hopes to understand those who age well in order to prevent aging problems and help older adults who are experiencing aging problems. These goals align with the center’s motto: “Aging is our future, Texas is the future of aging.”

“Texas population already looks like (where) the rest of the U.S. is heading,” Fingerman said. “We already have a number of different immigrant groups in the state who are now aging. We already have a rural and urban difference in education level and how people are aging, and all of those issues are going to play out throughout the United States in the next 30 of 40 years. So, understanding those issues right now sets the stage for the rest of the country to understand where they’re headed.”

Graduate research assistant Kristie Wood said she hopes the UT community takes away a different perspective of aging through the center.

“There doesn’t have to be this downward slope when we think of aging,” said Wood, educational psychology graduate student. “The numbers get higher, but that doesn’t mean that health goes down. There are people called superagers, for example, and a lot of people thrive when they age, so it’s just bringing awareness to aging and connecting people who are interested in doing research on it and bringing us all together, creating new opportunities.”