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Successful aging focus of national workshops

SPOKANE — Successful aging will be the topic four summer workshops led by Bob Scarfo, associate professor of landscape architecture at Washington State University Spokane.

The workshops, to be held in San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and Greenbelt, Maryland, will bring together professionals from the fields of health care and environmental design to discuss successful aging and ways to develop supportive community environments for vibrant older Americans.

The workshops are co-sponsored by WSU Spokane, the University of Massachusetts Boston Gerontological Institute, the American Society on Aging, and the California Council on Gerontology and Geriatrics.

Scarfo will conduct five national workshops on successful aging, bringing together gerontological and healthcare professionals, landscape architects and urban designers to develop a common language for discussion of the issues. With the input obtained at the workshops, he will develop a national survey to support geographic and land-use research on successful aging and will provide participants with spatial definitions, criteria and processes they may use to adapt their own unique community environments in support of existing and potential successful-aging populations.

National statistics show the growing number of Americans aged 65 and older who are independent and wish to remain active and engaged in life currently make up 13 percent of the total population. Within the next 20 years, the same group is projected to grow to comprise 24 percent of the population, and number 77 million. By 2050, the group is expected to make up 33 percent of the U.S. population.

“Successful and productive aging, the obesity epidemic and the built environment are areas of knowledge that employ similar language used by various professions,” Scarfo said. “We share a common goal: outcomes that benefit the public health, safety and welfare. By putting a diverse set of professionals in the same room to understand our common language and common interests, we hope to identify practices born from collaboration that support aging well, obesity prevention and conservation of natural resources.”

Early in the 1980s, researchers realized gerontological research focused more on disability, disease and chronological age than on the positive aspects of aging. The recognition that Americans were living longer, healthier lives, and that the health sciences needed the input of a long-range research program that identified factors responsible for people’s ability to function well later in life, resulted in a decade of funding from the MacArthur Foundation.

Dozens of research projects, and many others funded by other private and federal sources, are supporting a still-growing number of publications, highlighted by “Successful Aging” (John Wallis Rowe, M.D., and Robert L. Kahn, 1997). Gerontologists, geriatricians, community psychologists, economists and political scientists have identified successful “agers,” along with their physiological, psychological, social and spiritual characteristics, and have recommended changes that would foster more people achieving their potential. International conferences touting interdisciplinary research have explored the scientific and practical aspects of successful aging.

However, Scarfo’s review of 45 years of related data and literature found few instances of attention given to the spatial attributes of successful aging, suggesting that the data used to recommend policy, institutional, and economic changes, is incomplete. Absent is data on proximity to family, friends, and food; residential density and diversity; time spent in travel fulfilling daily needs and the character of active-living environments supportive of paid and volunteer activities.

About the Interdisciplinary Design Institute

The Interdisciplinary Design Institute at WSU Spokane houses the architecture, construction management, interior design, and landscape architecture programs. These four programs strive to enhance the quality of people’s lives in the built and natural environments. State-of-the-art studio facilities allow students and faculty to work together in a professional environment for learning and research, with a particular emphasis on engaging with the community as the basis for their creative work.

Faculty and students regularly win national and international awards for their design work, and faculty are widely published in peer-reviewed design journals. WSU Spokane is also home to a number of WSU programs in the health sciences, and a number of the Design Institute faculty have particular expertise in design and health.

A doctorate of design degree is offered at WSU Spokane, the only degree of its kind in Washington state, the Western United States and Canada. The only other DDes in the nation, offered at Harvard University, accepts only four students of the 80 or so who apply each year.

The program is intended to advance both the art and science of design within the framework of interdisciplinary inquiry and problem solving. Students are required to take a set of foundation courses to provide a common base of understanding and to pursue an area of specialization within one of the three areas of concentration: history, theory, and criticism; physical design; and people and place. Their studies lead to highly specialized and original dissertation research.

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