Dr. Patricia C. Heyn leads Center for Optimal Aging as Founding Director

Dr. Patricia C. Heyn leads Marymount University's Center for Optimal Aging as Founding Director


After a thorough and competitive international search, Marymount University has selected Dr. Patricia C. Heyn as Founding Director of the Center for Optimal Aging, the University’s first interdisciplinary research hub focused on addressing critical issues affecting the health of older adults.

“Marymount has a unique history and commitment to education and serving those in need by emphasizing intellectual curiosity, service to others and driving global education for humanitarian impact,” Dr. Heyn said. “I am inspired by Marymount’s mission as a leading, learner-centered educational institution that fosters holistic, diverse and inclusive education to spearhead innovation, leadership, spiritual growth and scientific excellence.”

Dr. Heyn has dedicated more than 25 years to research and teaching in the areas of rehabilitation and gerontology, and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts, book chapters and articles. Her expertise will propel the Center’s goals of driving and advancing health and wellness innovations, discoveries and solutions to enhance quality of life for older adults. This work will be facilitated through academic and community partnerships, bringing together the skillsets of Marymount faculty and students alongside scientists, professionals and stakeholders interested in addressing the needs of older populations.

“I am delighted to welcome Dr. Heyn as the Founding Director of our new research center on optimal aging, one of three interdisciplinary research centers we are establishing at Marymount University,” said Dr. Hesham El-Rewini, Provost and Senior Vice President at Marymount. “Dr. Heyn brings years of experience in clinical research and mentoring of medical residents, research fellows and graduate students.”

Dr. Rita Wong, Co-Founder of the Center for Optimal Aging and Professor of Physical Therapy at Marymount, served as Interim Director of the Center at its inception and will support Dr. Heyn going forward to champion its potential. Dynamic faculty members Dr. Uma Kelekar, Associate Professor of Health Care Management, and Dr. Julie D. Ries, Professor of Physical Therapy, will serve as the Center’s inaugural Fellows and be mentored by Dr. Heyn on the best gerontological research practices.

Dr. Heyn stands just outside of Caruthers Hall, where the Center of Optimal Aging will be located.

Under Dr. Heyn’s leadership, the Center will launch one of its first initiatives, the Arlington Longitudinal Optimal Healthy Aging (ALOHA) study. Slated to start in Fall 2022, the study will provide participants with personalized health guidance and recommendations for body and brain health.

“The goal of the ALOHA study is to empower our participants to achieve optimal wellness informed by a comprehensive health assessment and motivational passport tool that is designed to enhance overall health, function and independence throughout a person’s lifespan,” Dr. Heyn explained.

Before joining Marymount, Dr. Heyn was an Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado, where she directed clinical research and mentored medical residents, fellows and students on person-centered health outcomes research.

Holding a doctoral degree in applied exercise science and gerontology, Dr. Heyn also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in geriatric medicine with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Intrigued by the connections between walking ability, health status and chronic diseases associated with aging, she formed a multidisciplinary team in 2013 with researchers, clinicians and stakeholders to understand how individuals with pediatric-associated mobility disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, experience the aging process throughout adulthood. The Cerebral Palsy Adult Transition Longitudinal Study examined more than 70 adults, aged 18 and older, who were previously patients of the Center for Gait and Movement Analysis at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“Our research study found a significant gap in the care of adults with cerebral palsy, informing us about the need for continued personalized care for this population when they are transitioning from specialized pediatric care to adult care,” Dr. Heyn said. “I am devoted to conducting research and uncovering new information that can meaningfully change lives.”

The study is an ongoing program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, in collaboration with the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado.

In 2018, Dr. Heyn was awarded with the prestigious Women in Rehabilitation Science Award from the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine due to her innovative research and devoted mentoring to early career scholars. In 2008, she was recognized for her outstanding contributions to medical education and received the Alfonso Bovero Award from the Brazilian Society of Anatomy. In addition, she is an appointed fellow of The Gerontological Society of America and the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine.

The Center for Optimal Aging is scheduled to open its physical space in Caruthers Hall on Marymount’s Main Campus at the end of the summer. For more information on the Center for Optimal Aging, click here to visit the Center’s homepage.