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Oklahoma State program to support healthy aging through intergenerational conversations

Oklahoma State University professor Emily Roberts said there are now about 14 life-leaders in the program.
Sam Balye
Oklahoma State University professor Emily Roberts said there are now about 14 life-leaders in the program.

The goal of Oklahoma State University’s Active Aging for LIFE program is to challenge stigmas against aging and bridge generational divides in six rural communities.

Through the program, adults 60 years and older and college students are trained on the principles of longevity, independence, fitness and engagement, or LIFE, and become life leaders. Those in the program will meet with high school students to talk about life and the aging process.

The program is funded through a $242,000 grant and is based on feedback from previous trials.

Its first school stop is Enid High School next week.

Emily Roberts, OSU associate professor of interior design, is one of three professors who helped start the project. She said younger people will learn from older adults and those adults will have an opportunity to reflect on their life.

For Roberts, the point is to not only form intergenerational relationships but also, to create a sense of mindfulness about choices.

“You know, the aging process is across the lifespan, it's not just when you turn 50 or 60,” Roberts said. “The things that we do now will impact us throughout our life.”

There will be a mix of presentations, conversations and experiential learning projects during each session. For instance, she said during the program students can try on an age simulation GERT suit, a gerontological age simulation suit that allows people to experience the impact of what it feels like to be older.

In rural communities, people are at a higher risk for poorer health outcomes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said having the project in a rural setting is important because it provides a different educational opportunity.

“So we're hoping that having these conversations early in high school - and maybe we could even go step back in the future and go into junior high schools - But for now, to have high school students just start to think about these things that they might not have been introduced to, in their daily life,” Roberts said.

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Anna Pope is a reporter covering agriculture and rural issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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