Curriculum

Master's Degree - Gerontology

Coursework and Degree Requirements

This course introduces foundational concepts to the interdisciplinary field of gerontology and aging studies, including: core theories of aging, how to be critical consumers of aging research, developing writing and other professional skills, and exploring career options in aging.
The course covers physical, cognitive, social, and personal dimensions of adult development from a lifespan developmental perspective. This course takes an integrative perspective on aging that (a) considers the impact of prior development and socio-historical influences on late life development (b) emphasizes aging processes across diverse groups and contexts, and (c) identifies pathways to optimal functioning.
This course in an integrative experience for gerontology students designed to be taken near the end of the degree program. By applying knowledge gained in earlier coursework, students strengthen skills in ethical decision-making behavior and apply these skills in gerontology-related areas such as advocacy, professionalism, family issues, and workplace issues. Students from a variety of professions bring their unique perspectives to bear on topics of common interest.

Block 2: The Aging Individual

This course is an overview of the normal aging process of human body systems, environmental factors influencing normal aging, diseases and disorders associated with aging, and the prevention and treatment of diseases and disorders associated with aging. A special topics unit includes, but is not limited to, interviews and observations dealing with the aging process in humans.
This course addresses cognitive, social, and emotional health in adulthood and later life including typical and atypical changes such as wisdom, dementia, coping, and depression. Contrasting theoretical frameworks and considering positions of access and resilience, students will examine personality, mental health, and cognitive and brain functioning during adulthood and review methods to enhance psychological health.
This course introduces students to the range of issues involved in aging and mental health. From a systems framework, students examine the major emotional and psychiatric problems encountered in old age. This includes examination of mood, anxiety, adjustment and personality disorders, dementia, cognitive problems, substance abuse, and suicide. Students explore barriers to treatment and cohort and cultural issues.
Sexuality is one important component of well-being throughout the life span, and growing older doesn’t eliminate the need for sexual intimacy. This course addresses the infrequently discussed topic of sexuality as it applies to older adulthood. Students learn about the physiological changes that accompany aging and affect sexuality. Student also learn about the psychological and social impact of barriers to sexual expression, including factors such as Alzheimer’s disease, accessibility, and medication. Additional topics of the course are sexual diversity, the role of family, the role of government, and technology.
In this course, students examine spirituality in later life from developmental, ethical, multicultural and applied perspectives.
This course addresses the historical, contemporary, and interdisciplinary basis of aging theory. Students critically assess biological, psychological, sociological, and human developmental conceptualizations. Emphasis of the course is on conceptual models as well as theoretical development and application within gerontological research and the field of aging.
Advances in medical technology have brought with them questions healthcare givers must now face on a daily basis. Do people have a right to die? Should healthcare providers perform life-saving procedures on all patients? Should the ability to pay influence what types of treatments are offered to patients? This course helps students learn to think critically about ethical issues affecting healthcare workers in a variety of healthcare settings (e.g., hospitals, nursing homes, clinical practice, pharmacies). The course content emphasizes issues relating to aging populations. Class discussions, short essays, and case studies encourage students to understand the multi-faceted nature of these ethical issues and need for open discussion between health care providers, patients, and family members. Prerequisite: One course in science.
Normative biological and physiological changes due to aging are identified with a focus on how environmental factors such as physical activity and nutrition can support healthy aging and prevention of frailty and age-related diseases. Multiple facets of active aging that can augment quality of life will be examined. Resources for implementation of inclusive programs for diverse groups of aging adults will be explored. 

Block 3: Aging in Context

This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of the biological, environmental, and social spheres where technology and gerontology meet. Topics include the interrelationship between population dynamics and technological change, technological research and devices that may improve older adults’ lives, particular issues for rural communities, and the social and cultural meanings, challenges, and benefits of gerontechnologies.
What happens to creativity as a person ages? This unique class helps students understand developmental and pathological changes in the brain that can lead to changes in creative output over time. Through hands-on experiences, students grow appreciation for creativity produced and inspired by older people. The course provides theoretical frameworks and historical examples in literature, drama, art, and music.
Examination of research and theories on family dynamics and transitions in mid-to-late life, how they impact adults and their family relationships, and the practices and professional ethics of working with diverse older adults and their families.
This course overviews theoretical perspectives in environments for aging, as well as factors involved in the continuum of environments for aging including aging in place, retirement communities, long term care, memory care, and end of life care. Students will be introduced to a wide range of overlapping domains such as environmental psychology, cognitive science, sociology, physiology, architectural and interior design, human geography and urban/rural planning. This course will include selected readings for each module topic; web-based tools and resources that can be used beyond the course; short experiential leaning activities; group discussions via message boards; and short reflective writing assignments.
This course provides valuable information to the person interested in a leadership role in long-term care, but is also useful to persons who think their careers might intersect with senior living organizations or for those students who have a potential interest in long-term care options for their own parents or loved ones. The class draws upon the expertise of leaders in the field of long-term care. are used to help students to understand application of the written material.

Block 4: Practice in Integrative Aging Students

This course will familiarize students to applied research methods as they apply to aging programs, such as: needs assessment, formative research, process evaluation, and impact assessment. Students will learn theories and concepts of evidence-informed practice and program evaluation, perform the skills to conduct methodologically sound program evaluation research, and gain practical experience and strategies for application.
This course explores the dynamic process of aging and the role of the built environment in the multidimensional as well as multispheral aspects of life-course occurring in family, work, education, and leisure as well as others domains.
This course covers the formation, implementation, and impact of various policies and programs focused on providing services and supports for the social, financial, and physical well-being of aging persons within their communities. A primary focus is placed on addressing challenges and gaps in policies, as well as issues of unmet needs and inequity through advocacy and policy-making.
This course addresses theoretical and practical aspects of community-based efforts to influence the well-being of older adults. Examines literature from gerontological, prevention science, human sciences, and community health approaches. Provides an overview of the program development, implementation, evaluation, and management of aging-related programs.

Block 5: Customized Experience in Integrative Aging

Practicum is available through your home university. Consult with your academic advisor about course selection and scheduling.

Cross-Program Electives

This course provides students with an introduction to financial abuse across the lifespan. Theoretical approaches to understanding financial abuse, along with prevention and intervention strategies will be discussed.
This course focuses on issues and concepts related to the overall financial planning process and establishing client-planner relationships. Students explore services provided to families, documentation required, and client and Certified Financial Planner™ licensee responsibilities. Students develop competencies for gathering of client data, determining goals and expectations, and assessing the client's financial status by analyzing and evaluating data. Emerging issues and the role of ethics in financial planning are an integral part of the course.
Program Summary
Cost per credit hour:

2023-2024: $600
2024-2025: $610
Learn more about Tuition and Cost

Average time to complete:
Master's degree: 23 months
Graduate certificate: 15 months

36 Hours


15 Hours

University Contact
These campus coordinators can help you navigate Great Plains IDEA. Click on the university name to learn more about how Great Plains IDEA works at that campus. Iowa State Online
Stacy Duffield
Rae Ann Montgomery
Ashlee Murden
Cathy Hamilton
University Members
Members of the Great Plains IDEA are universities accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Member universities recruit, admit and graduate students, teach in an academic program and contribute to the leadership and maintenance of the alliance. Membership in the alliance is a selective process that engages institutional leadership at all levels.

Macy Burgess is a graduate of the family and community services degree.I made the decision to switch specializations in my master’s program mid-way through my degree. This change took me from the traditional on-campus experience to the Great Plains IDEA online experience. The switch seemed intimidating to me but it ended up being an incredible experience that I would not have gotten if I'd taken all classes at one university. Getting to dive into courses offered at schools all over the country was beneficial as it opened pathways for communication and sharing of knowledge with students and faculty I would not normally have interacted with. 

– – Macy Burgess, Family and Community Services Graduate Student,
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