UNI professor's passion for the aging process

While many complete their journeys in a retirement community, for one University of Northern Iowa professor, that's where it all began.

With a mother who was the activity director at a nursing home, Elaine Eshbaugh, an associate professor of gerontology, spent time with the elderly beginning at a very young age. "I remember receiving a ton of attention from the residents as a child," Eshbaugh recalled fondly. Sometimes this attention included singing, dancing and even putting on fashion shows for the residents.

Aerobics class
Eshbaugh teaches a low-impact aerobics class at the Cedar Falls Recreation Center. She's found through her research that participants demonstrated gains in balance, strength and cardio.

This attention and time spent at the home has undoubtedly influenced many of Eshbaugh's educational and career decisions. "No matter what path I went down, I came back to aging."

Eshbaugh originally attended Iowa State University, where she obtained her Doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies. Through her studies, she began to notice that there was never enough research done on the subject of aging. At that point, Eshbaugh offered a unique piece of advice for any student: "find something no one else is interested in, and do it passionately."

After beginning her teaching career at UNI in 2006, Eshbaugh's passion for the aging process was fueled in part by a grant from the Adele Whitenack Davis Professorship in Gerontology Endowment Fund, which was established to encourage research in the field of gerontology. This, along with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2002, helped establish the Iowa Center for Applied Gerontology at UNI, the only undergraduate gerontology program in Iowa.

Through the gerontology program, students learn about the physical, social and psychological aspects of aging. They also gain experience in how to interact with aging families, be service providers for older adults, and create policy in our society that suits the large proportion of older adults. Recently, many students have flocked to the program because of how marketable a degree in gerontology will make them in years to come, along with the aging of the "baby boomer" generation.

Eshbaugh has also completed an independent study through her low-impact aerobics class, which serves a lot of older participants. The study notes how, although elderly people are generally thought to be declining in fitness with age, many participants still demonstrated gains in balance, strength and cardio.

"People are living longer and healthier lives than ever before," stressed Eshbaugh. "This study suggests that you can make gains in your fitness with older age, that decline isn't inevitable."

From her countless hours spent in a retirement home as a child to leading UNI's gerontology program, Eshbaugh's path has always led back to the elderly. She has a passion that isn't shared by many, and continues to make strides in that area. That passion is undoubtedly influencing her students, and will continue to influence many students to come.