An expert in gerontology shares her thoughts on aging and well-being
We all aspire to healthy old age. So when Rosemary Blieszner talks about her research, people tend to perk up and listen.
Blieszner focuses on gerontology issues, family and friend relationships, life events, and psychological well-being. She was recently reappointed to her second 10-year term as an Alumni Distinguished Professor by Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors; the hallmark of this title is “distinguished contribution — over time — to this university.”
Currently, only 10 faculty members sport this prestigious designation that recognizes “outstanding contributions to the instructional program of the university.”
Blieszner, a professor of human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is an exemplary appointee. Known for her ability to motivate students to be self-directed learners, her innovative teaching emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving, and practice in future professional roles. She validates personal experiences as important sources of knowledge and has adopted a multicultural perspective by acknowledging the effects of gender, race, class, age, and nationality on human development.
Her numerous teaching accomplishments include the University Alumni Teaching Award and election into the Academy of Teaching Excellence. Blieszner has advised hundreds of undergraduates, seven master’s and 19 doctoral candidates so at professional meetings, it is not uncommon to see her surrounded by former students.
A speaker who has addressed the International Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics conference on an international stage, Blieszner is also a favorite among alumni groups. Her theme of resiliency resonates with most audiences, including the December 2009 graduates who heard her say this in their commencement address:
“In our research with older adults, we found that resiliency enabled them to remain active and engaged in life even though they might have aches and pains, be widowed, or live on a low income ... These benefits of resiliency – being able to cope well with whatever comes along in life and contribute one’s talents to the greater good of humanity, being more productive, more effective, and more content – these benefits are available to anyone, not just to those who have lived for a long time.”
Blieszner’s advice for achieving well-being in old age? “Respond appropriately to the hand you’ve been dealt,” she says. While good genes and healthy lifestyle choices are paramount to aging well, Blieszner also believes that good psychological health includes a focus on “something bigger than yourself.” Some people express that with religious beliefs and practices, others achieve resiliency through “hobbies, interests, and visionary thinking.”
She also noted the importance of a positive attitude, social interaction, intellectual stimulation, and the idea of vocation, a lifelong commitment to developing one’s talents and being the best one can be.
Blieszner’s research on adult friendships reveals that the following ingredients tend to nurture relationships: sharing similar interests and backgrounds, trustworthiness, and reciprocation. Perhaps paramount to these long-term relationships, she says, is “the ability to express affection and caring” as well as “solving problems when they come up and not allowing them to fester.”
She is coauthor of “Adult Friendship” (Sage, 1992) and “Spiritual Resiliency in Older Women: Models of Strength for Challenges through the Life Span” (Sage, 1999); coeditor of “Older Adult Friendship: Structure and Process” (Sage 1989) and two printings of the popular textbook “Handbook of Families and Aging.” Her soon to be published “Spiritual Resiliency and Aging: Hope , Relationality, and the Creative Self”(Baywood 2012) explores life stories of strong, courageous elders who have not only coped well but also transcended numerous losses in their lives.
Blieszner, who also studies cognitive impairment and its effects on caregivers, served as editor of the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences from 2008-11.
Just as students give Blieszner stellar marks for teaching, her colleagues recognize her administrative gifts. In 2000-01, she was appointed by President Charles W. Steger as director of strategic planning; in this role she provided university-wide leadership for articulating a visionary set of goals, objectives and strategies for the updated University Plan. In 2009, Blieszner again expanded her duties when she was named associate dean of the Graduate School.
Over the last 30 years at Virginia Tech, Blieszner has been named a Fellow in four national professional associations: American Psychological Association (Division 20), Association for Gerontology in Higher Education, Gerontological Society of America, and National Council on Family Relations.
A native of Pittsburgh, Blieszner completed her Ph.D. at The Pennsylvania State University. She received her master’s degree from Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree from Mercyhurst College.