Monthly Member Spotlight

Q&A with Joel L. Olah, MA, PhD, from Des Moines, Iowa.

Joel Olah PhotoHow long have you been a GSA member? What GSA member benefit do you like best and why?

I joined GSA as a Graduate Student at The University of Michigan/Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 1973. I enjoy The Gerontologist, Public Policy and Aging Report, and other research materials/communications GSA offers. Such publications help me to keep up with field trends/research results.

How has membership in GSA benefited you?

GSA membership has enriched my professional development through exposure to the latest research and demonstrations in Gerontology. I often share this information with our staff and my colleagues across the aging network of service providers. If there is a practical application, I try to find the proper avenue.

How did you get interested in the field of aging?

My formal interest in the field of Gerontology/Aging Studies goes back to when I was assigned retirement planning responsibilities within a large state agency. I began to read in earnest about the field in order to understand the larger picture of retirement and aging. However, I grew up around many older adults and had older parents, so my concept of aging was very positive. I loved to listen to all the stories about how these older adults grew up. They provided me with guidance and shared their wisdom.

How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?

GSA casts a wide net, bringing national and international scholars together to dialogue about the frontiers of aging research, policy, and its application to the community at large. The topics are wide-ranging and relevant to these challenging times.

Are you a member of a GSA interest group? If so, which ones?

I am a member of the Religion, Spirituality, and Aging, Aging Alcohol, and Addictions, and Mental Health Practice and Aging Interest Groups. I receive updates, sometimes daily, from a number of scholars representing many research centers and universities.

What are your key responsibilities at your job?

As a director of a home and community-based service agency for older and disabled adults, my main responsibility is to advocate for our clients and their caregivers. I am most fortunate to be part of the dream team of experienced service providers who are very dedicated to serving the needs of our community. Together we have achieved a service record of excellence in the most populated region of our state.

What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?

I have been fortunate to be connected to several universities and a medical school and have participated in a number of research projects including mental health and aging, substance use and aging, family caregiving, direct care worker development, and the World Health Organization Age-Friendly Cities program.

Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?

I would encourage emerging Gerontologists to reach out to the service community and explore the world of home and community-based elder services. Remain in contact with your professors and your colleagues, and read, read, read!

Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.

Within the past several months we have been working on an innovative project dedicated to the rural segments of our catchment area. This involves Options Counseling and preventing homelessness among vulnerable older adults. I have also received many hours of health care courses on COVID-19 and have been sharing this information with medical providers and administrators who treat patients, staff, and develop effective preventive protocols.

Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did s/he make a difference?

Over the nearly 50 years of service within the field of Gerontology I have been graced with many mentors who inspired and helped guide me through the pathway to life. They shared their best advice and made me aware of the big picture and how important service is to the field and to the community around us. I treasure these individuals and their wisdom. They are part of who I am today.

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