April Pearce is in the middle of her freshman year at UCLA, settling into life away from home for the first time. But instead of thinking about dorm food or exams, the 19-year-old is focused on something a little more abstract: old age. That’s because of a unique course Pearce is taking called Frontiers in Human Aging, designed to teach first-year college students what it means to get old — physically, emotionally and financially. Pearce said that before, she barely noticed elderly people when she passed them on the street. Since being in the aging class, seeing them fills her mind with questions: Do they live alone? Will they develop dementia? Do they interact with anyone apart from relatives?” It’s weird, I know,” she said. “But before, I didn’t have any knowledge really about aging. I didn’t even interact with any older people except for my grandmother. Now I’m learning so much.” In addition to teaching students about aging, the professors have another goal in mind: inspiring them to pursue careers working with the elderly.
With more than 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, there is a growing need, said Rita Effros, a professor at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine who teaches both undergraduates and medical students. Throughout the year, students hear lectures about anxiety, genetics and dementia. They discuss ageism and read about Social Security. They stage debates on assisted suicide and watch films about growing old. The course lasts from September to June, and students can go on to take other classes about aging, including ones that focus on diversity or public policy.
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