Alfred University News

Psychology Professor Danielle Gagne elected president of New York Society on Aging; hopes to focus attention on needs of aging state prison inmates

Alfred University Professor of Psychology Danielle Gagne recently was elected president of the State Society on Aging of New York. She hopes to steer the Society, as well as Alfred University, towards a deeper understanding of the challenges facing older adults.

“We come at those challenges from a variety of perspectives,” Gagne says of the Society, noting its members include representatives of the legal and medical professions, as well as community services, AARP, and Psychology studies. “Psychologists can make a significant contribution to the conversation,” she says.

Gagne plans to contribute particularly to the condition of New York State’s prison inmates who were incarcerated in their youth due to harsh sentencing protocols connected with drug convictions. Many of those individuals are now struggling with age-related issues while they continue serving their sentences.

“We’re talking about people suffering from age-related health conditions such as diabetes and other conditions involving professional medication,” Gagne says. She hopes to connect her advocacy with state legislation that would ease the parole process for inmates 55 years and older who have served at least 15 years of their sentence.

As chairperson of the Division of Psychology, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Gagne is involved in an academic division with a strong focus on gerontological issues. She teaches the popular Psychology of Death and Dying class; other courses in the Psychology curriculum include Adult Development and Aging and Cognition and Aging. The division offers a major and minor in gerontological studies. Gagne hopes the curriculum encourages students to recognize and address more clearly the difficulties of aging. “We’re encouraging youthful graduating students to be less naïve when it comes to the unique needs of the older population,” she says.

Gagne’s work with gerontological psychology also has led to an association with Ardent Solutions – based in Wellsville and previously called The Allegany/Western Steuben Rural Health Network. The organization works to foster a culture of health and interconnected social services in its service area. Gagne says she wants to work with the organization to identify ways of making the Alfred University campus more accessible to aging populations.

“We’re currently working to identify our strengths and weaknesses,” she says, “Next semester, we’ll be looking at remediation possibilities.” Those include developing community programs that address needs of older adults; encouraging students to spend more time with senior citizens, possibly through a senior lunch program; and developing on-campus programs tailored to the interests of older adults.

“We’re all aging, no matter how youthful we are or feel,” Gagne says. “The more we know about the needs of older people, the better we can help those people and be ready for the challenges of aging ourselves.”