Meramec Bluffs and The Science of Aging: A Q&A With Retired Gerontologist Jean Plesko

The growth of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) like Meramec Bluffs reflects a maturing of the field of gerontology — the study of the medical effects of aging. By offering a full range of medical services to suit residents needs if they change, CCRCs cater to the unique health requirements of older adults. And yet, gerontology as a discipline only dates back to the 1940s, and it didn’t begin to gain traction in the U.S. until the 1960s and 1970s.

Meramec Bluffs resident Jean Plesko, RN, MSN, had a front row seat for the birth of the field. She began her career in nursing in 1951, earning a master’s degree in the subject and devoting the better part of her career to advancing medical care for older adults.

Meramec Bluffs (MB): You’ve seen a lot of changes in the field of long-term senior care in the last 60 years.

Jean Plesko (JP): I remember in the 1970s, clinicians in England began doing research on what the normal aging process was. That was a first. Up until that point, nurses were trained to treat all adults, 18 to 80, in much the same way. That was the beginning of a real shift in the way we look at the aging process.

MB: How did you see that shift playing out?

JP: First and foremost, it was a change in the perception of what aging is. For so long, people assumed that illness was just a normal part of the aging process. The idea almost seemed to be that age itself was a disease rather than a normal part of life. If you were an older person and you complained about being sick, the attitude of the time was almost, “Well, what do you expect? You’re old!”

It seems simple now, but the idea that aging is all a part of God’s plan was a pretty radical idea once upon a time. As we age, we see some changes. We don’t always like them, we don’t always want them, but they’re there. Gerontology is all about figuring out those changes and what we can do about them.

MB: How do you see Gerontology evolving today?

JP: Rapidly, and almost completely for the better. You have to understand that we’re in the middle of demographic shift in this country. The population is getting older, and that means the importance of gerontology is only going to grow. And the more the demand rises, the more gerontologists get trained. And the more gerontologists get trained, the richer and more dynamic the industry becomes.

MB: So the future’s looking bright for seniors?

JP: Absolutely. Health care used to be a one-symptom, one-pill sort of affair. But there’s so much more to a person than a single medical issue. I like to say, “When you age, you are what you are, but even more so.” Each person is unique, and the older you get the more unique you become. Now, medical professionals are geared toward catering to that uniqueness.

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