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Age Masters

Older adults can take a college course and earn a certificate in the mastery of aging well through a new Web-based program developed by Oregon State University.

(This sentence has been corrected.)

Video, slide presentations and audio narration for the Mastery of Aging Well program debut today on OSU's Web site. Co-branded by AARP Oregon, the program developed at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point is expected to have nationwide reach, says Sharon Johnson, the OSU associate professor who designed the coursework and Web content.

"This is one of the first times the university has really targeted older adult students," Johnson says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided $300,000 for the program's development after requesting grant applications for "innovative learning opportunities" for older adults in rural areas, Johnson says, adding that she never expected to win the award. Johnson spent the past year creating five modules addressing issues that most affect seniors, including memory difficulties, managing medications, physical activity, diet and depression.

"This is just very different for Extension and this demographic," Johnson says.

The program's first tier, available online free of charge, provides a multimedia overview of the five modules. The Web site presents practical, research-based solutions to problems that seniors or their family members commonly encounter, Johnson says, adding that the modules were field-tested for two weeks by more than 20 local participants.

"We've been getting great response," she says. "One woman called the physical activity module 'brilliant.' "

Seniors can enroll for further study with OSU in January. A fee of $225 connects students to an online class of 15 who, with Johnson and a panel of older adults, discuss scenarios and work through practical examples. Students can develop a personal action plan for behavior change. Coursework is conducted by phone, e-mail and Web-based chats.

"Option two is they basically get a mentor," Johnson says.

A third tier expands on the second with printed and bound materials that include references and sources, as well as a DVD of the entire course. Students can earn a certificate of completion in Mastery of Aging Well after passing a final exam. Scholarships are available for the third option, which costs $325.

The free Web content will be updated periodically, Johnson says, adding that OSU needs no further grants to maintain the program.

"There is built-in sustainability," she says.

While the grant did not require an Internet component, the format is likely to reach large numbers of aging adults, Johnson says. It's not necessarily the case that adults in their 80s use the Internet less than seniors who are decades younger, she adds.

"There's an increasingly greater percentage of people who would be able to access this."

Jacksonville resident Gail Myers, 86, agrees after helping Johnson field-test the program.

"The seniors are very computer-literate," says Myers, a former higher-education administrator who specialized in communication and media.

Yet many seniors, Myers adds, don't know where to get information on the issues that are most relevant to them. He likens Mastery of Aging Well and its certification process to OSU's popular master gardening and master food preserving programs.

Naurine McCormick, 84, says that seniors who are eager for more education tend to be more Internet-savvy. A retired associate dean of home economics for OSU, she helped Johnson brainstorm topics with the belief that her fellow seniors value education and training even as they age out of the workforce.

"Having another credential is important to us," McCormick says.

AARP Oregon values the program's extensive research and credibility, says Joyce DeMonnin, the organization's director of public outreach. Her office agreed to help market Mastery of Aging Well to its members via e-mail and is considering linking its Web site to the program's, DeMonnin adds.

"This is a really good tool."

The Mastery of Aging Well program is available online at

outreach.oregonstate.edu/aging-well. Web-site visitors can fill out an electronic form to request more information.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Naurine McCormick, 84, a retired associate dean of home economics for Oregon State University, helped brainstorm topics for the new Mastery of Aging Well program, with the belief that her fellow seniors value education and training even as they age out of the work force.