Susan Kemper

Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor
Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Gerontology Center, Life Span Institute
Primary office:
Fraser Hall, room 426

Expertise and Current Research Activity

Older adults need to communicate with their families, friends, and neighbors, with their lawyers and physicians, through face-to-face interaction and over telephones, the Internet and other devices. Communication is essential if older adults are to maintain intergenerational ties, solicit assistance with daily living activities, fulfill life-long learning goals, or gain access to health and legal information from print, broadcast, or electronic media. Common barriers to communication include the declining sensory, cognitive, and physical abilities of older adults; these challenges reach their most extreme for older adults with dementia and other age-associated neurological conditions but also limit the lives of healthy older adults and restrict their independence and autonomy.

I investigate how aging, Alzheimer’s dementia, and other conditions affect older adult’s communication abilities in a wide range of tasks and situations. My research has pioneered the development of new assessment approaches to detect the onset and progression of age-associated declines, led to new ways to diagnose and treat older adults’ communication problems, and resulted in new approaches to intervene and support successful aging. My current interests include how best to communicate health information and treatment options to older adults, especially those at risk for the development of disabling conditions.

Why Study at the University of Kansas?

I would be happy to talk with potential students about opportunities here at KU; this is my 28th year at KU and I still find it to be an exciting place that truly supports interdisciplinary collaboration. I am a participating faculty member in four doctoral programs at the University of Kansas: Gerontology, Child Language, Cognitive Psychology, and Developmental Psychology and affiliated with the Gerontological Center and the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies as well as the Department of Psychology. Each program has unique strengths but they all share a common commitment to a "junior colleague" model of graduate training. As junior colleagues, graduate students are expected to gradually develop the full range of professional skills and competencies necessary to function as productive, independent researchers. Beginning as assistants to established researchers or more advanced students, students gradually assume increased responsibilities for the conduct of research as they acquire relevant research skills.

My students draw upon a wide range of resources to examine how language and communication abilities are affected by aging, leading to communication deficits for healthy older adults as well as those with age-associated diseases such as Alzheimer's dementia and Parkinson's disease. There is an exceptional concentration of faculty at the University of Kansas with convergent research and teaching interests in gerontology, psycholinguistics, linguistics, communication studies, and speech/hearing sciences. An active climate of research and scholarship exists which will promote the study of communication and aging and ensure that doctoral students acquire the skills and training necessary to function as independent researchers.

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