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An Outdoor Oasis for Angelenos in Their Golden Years A Westlake park designed for older adults brings UCLA Luskin research to life

By Mary Braswell

At Los Angeles’ new Golden Age Park, garden beds are raised far above ground so that visitors can tend to flowers and vegetables without stooping down.

Lawns, pathways and exercise areas are laid out on one seamless plane — a stumble-proof surface for those who move about with canes, walkers and wheelchairs.

Once a vacant lot, this tranquil green space was designed with older adults in mind — the culmination of research spearheaded by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“It’s a little oasis in the city, less than a third of an acre,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who launched the study of senior-friendly open spaces that would eventually evolve into a blueprint for Golden Age Park.

Expanding knowledge to bring real change to people’s lives is a core part of UCLA Luskin’s mission. But researchers rarely see their ideas brought to life so vividly, Loukaitou-Sideris’ team agreed.

At Golden Age Park, visitors can stroll along circular walkways, build strength and balance on low-impact exercise machines, practice their gardening skills, or simply rest in areas designed for socializing or solitude. Shade trees, roses and purple sage create a pocket of nature on a street lined with apartment buildings.

The park’s architects relied on a toolkit called “Placemaking for an Aging Population” that was created by Loukaitou-Sideris’ team of urban designers, planners and gerontologists. The guidelines were shaped by case studies from around the world as well as input from older adults just around the corner.

The team reached out to St. Barnabas Senior Center, which serves the largely low-income and minority residents of Los Angeles’ Westlake neighborhood, just west of downtown. In focus groups conducted in Spanish, Korean and English, St. Barnabas regulars said they did not feel comfortable going to nearby MacArthur Park but would welcome a safe and accessible outdoor space geared toward their age group.

Loukaitou-Sideris’ team also partnered with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a nonprofit devoted to increasing access to parks and gardens, particularly in communities of color. The group had been eyeing a lot at 739 S. Coronado St. — just a three-minute walk from St. Barnabas — hoping to convert it into a park.

With support from numerous foundations, government agencies and neighborhood partners, the trust purchased the lot, which had sat vacant for nearly 30 years. And with guidance from Loukaitou-Sideris’ team, Golden Age Park came to life.

“This is a model for how to work with local universities and thought leaders to put research into practice,” said Chandelle Wiebe, director of development and communications for the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.

Shortly after its November grand opening, Loukaitou-Sideris visited the park with other members of her research team: Lené Levy-Storms, associate professor of social welfare and geriatric medicine; Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and Lia Marshall, a doctoral candidate in social welfare.

Loukaitou-Sideris recalled the inspiration for the study. “It all started in Taiwan,” where years earlier she had visited a park crowded with older adults enjoying the benefits of outdoor recreation. In the United States, by contrast, many parks are constructed with children in mind, and the over-65 population often feels unwelcome.

“I had been doing this work on parks,” she said. “But I am not a gerontologist.”

“And I had never built a park,” said Levy-Storms, whose research in gerontology focuses on intergenerational communication.

The two created the team that applied for a grant, conducted interviews, studied park accessibility in other cultures and eventually produced the toolkit for senior-friendly open spaces, which has been honored by the American Planning Association.

“This park is so reflective of our research because it brings together urban design, planning and gerontology,” Brozen said as she and her colleagues admired the age-appropriate features of Golden Age Park:

  • Pathways form a loop lined with distinctive landmarks to guide those who sometimes lose their way.
  • A sloped ramp, elliptical trainer and tai chi wheel offer opportunities for a low-impact workout.
  • High fences and a clear sight line to the street provide a sense of security.
  • Seating areas made of temperature-sensitive materials include benches with arms for those who need to steady themselves as they sit or stand.
  • A children’s play area welcomes park-goers who would like to bring younger relatives along.
  • The raised gardens invite visitors to plant and prune without having to bend.

Some of the St. Barnabas seniors said they hope the park becomes a community treasure, a place where all generations can come together to make friends, learn other languages and share the vegetables grown in the garden.

And the park is welcomed by its neighbors. At the grand opening, “a woman from the apartment complex next door was very vocal about loving this park,” said Marshall, who also lives in the neighborhood. “She said she was going to be looking out for it.”

View more photos of Golden Age Park on Flickr.

Golden Age Park

image of older man picking celery in a field with other workers in the background

Torres-Gil on Latino Retirement Insecurity

Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging, spoke to La Opinión about the economic and retirement insecurities Latinos face as they age. Although older Americans have “more disposable income and assets accumulated at this time in their life, they also have the lowest savings rates, higher debt and will live longer,” said Torres-Gil, a professor of social welfare and public policy. “Latinos in general — especially Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Central Americans (Cubans are the exception) — have lower savings rates and pension coverage compared to African Americans and whites,” he said. Latinos also have overall lower education levels and are less likely to have higher-paying jobs that permit them to save money, he added. “Latinos and especially Hispanic women have the highest life expectancy rates compared to whites and African-Americans and, therefore, will live longer with greater economic and retirement insecurities,” he said.


 

Aging Boom Must Be Addressed, Torres-Gil Says

Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Ventura County Star about the policy implications of the county’s aging boom. The number of Ventura County residents 60 and older — now about 196,000 — will likely exceed the number of residents younger than 18 early in 2020, local agencies reported. It also said residents age 85 and older will nearly quadruple in 40 years. Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, said that both Democrats and Republicans have neglected restructuring Medicare, Social Security and Medi-Cal. He commended Ventura County leaders for taking the lead and creating a master plan to address the aging boom. Torres-Gil said that voters will eventually support more funding for initiatives that address the aging boom when they come to terms with their age — when they realize, ” ‘Oh [shoot], I’m old. Now what?’ ”


 

Torres-Gil to Advise State on Master Plan for Aging

Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, has been named to an advisory committee formed to guide California’s leaders in the creation of a Master Plan for Aging. The plan is intended to serve as a blueprint that can be used by state government, local communities, private organizations and philanthropy to build environments that promote healthy aging. “The Golden State is getting grayer, and we need to be ready for the major population changes headed our way,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in commissioning the plan. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, appointed Torres-Gil to the new Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which will advise state Cabinet members tasked with drafting the master plan by October 2020. “This is our time to come together to build an age-friendly California,” Ghaly said. “Government cannot do this alone — I challenge all Californians to join us in building a California Dream that is inclusive of our older and disabled neighbors.” Torres-Gil’s career spans the academic, professional and policy arenas, and he is a nationally recognized authority on health care, entitlement reform and the politics of aging. He is director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin and co-author of “The Politics of a Majority-Minority Nation: Aging, Diversity, and Immigration.” 


 

Transportation and Isolation: Serious Challenges for Diverse, Older Angelenos Research conducted by UCLA Luskin and USC Leonard Davis — and supported by AARP — examines travel, technology and mobility issues

In an effort to identify solutions to improve the lives of older adults and people of all ages and abilities, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, with the support of AARP, recently conducted surveys of diverse, older Angelenos, exploring their travel patterns, use of technology, and the mobility problems they face.

“We united on one common goal, the importance for understanding community needs, opportunities, and barriers that can support, create and sustain livable and age-friendly communities in Los Angeles,” said Nancy McPherson, State Director of AARP. “We know that the more connected and engaged people are with their community, the more likely they are to age successfully and remain living in their homes for as long as possible, as the vast majority wish to do.”

The UCLA research team focused on identifying mobility and travel patterns by conducting focus groups and interviews with 81 older adults in the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Westlake and East Hollywood, including adults visiting St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS), a local organization that provides health and social services. The UCLA report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” found that:

  • Participants expressed difficulty in getting around, often endure long transit trips and uncomfortable or scary walking environments and social hazards that could cause them to trip and fall, significantly reducing their independence and quality of life.
  • For many, walking around their neighborhoods is the primary mode of transportation; however, there are significant physical and social impediments that constrain mobility.
  • A small number own cars and many rely on family and friends to drive them. Use of point-to-point travel services (e.g., taxis, ride-hailing services) is rare and constrained by finances.
  • Many lack competency with technology to order ride-hailing services.
  • Mobility constraints affect the number and frequency of trips.
  • Differences exist among study participants in regard to the numbers of social and recreational trips. Older adults visiting SBSS take a larger number of daily trips and have a higher likelihood of making social and recreational trips than those who are not visiting SBSS.

“Mobility affects the quality of life. Decreased mobility means also decreased access to city amenities or jobs, and socialization opportunities, as well as a higher risk for social isolation. Our findings suggest that certain improvements both in the physical environment and in the transit and paratransit services can help increase the mobility of low-income, older adults, and we articulate these improvements in our report,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Associate Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “We are welcoming the opportunity to join forces with the AARP and our USC colleagues and advocate for more age-friendly California cities.”

For more information on the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” click here.

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on the consequences of loneliness and isolation, especially among older adults. While adoption of technology and social media has the potential to reduce isolation, issues such as cost, disinterest and lack of the skills needed to use various devices may hinder older adults’ adoption. Los Angeles’ ethnically, linguistically and geographically diverse population of older adults made it an ideal location for the USC Leonard School of Gerontology to explore how this population uses technology and the extent to which they believe it can improve connectivity and reduce isolation.

The USC research team conducted six focus groups in English, Spanish and Korean at SBSS with 48 older adults living in a low-income area of Los Angeles, home to a diverse, largely immigrant population. Key findings from this report, “Aging in Place in Los Angeles: Recognizing Challenges to Social Connectedness,” include:

  • A relatively high use of some technology among this engaged group, as well as a wide range in social connectivity with family, friends, and members of the community;
  • Although some older adults did not have the resources or the desire to use technology, others used mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, and computers – either in combination or alone – for purposes of contacting their family and friends, accessing health care information, getting the news, shopping, and watching television;
  • Cost, disinterest, and lack of the skills needed to use various devices hindered older adults’ adoption of technology and social media;
  • Many older adults indicated a reluctance to adopt newer technology because they preferred to communicate in-person and they expressed concerns that technology is too complicated or too expensive; others used it for entertainment, to plan local and long-distance travels, and to communicate with their loved ones.

“Our findings suggest that although technology isn’t a cure all for loneliness, it can be a tool in the tool box for addressing social isolation. Policy makers and tech developers need to consider how older adults currently use technology, how it can better suit their needs, and barriers that prevent them from using it effectively,” said Kate Wilber, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology professor. “We are thankful that AARP and our UCLA collaborators recognize the importance of addressing social isolation and look forward to working toward solutions that benefit older adults in Los Angeles and beyond.”

For more information on USC’s “Disrupting Isolation in Housing for an Aging Population,” click here.

Torres-Gil Examines Nexus of Aging and Immigration

UCLA Luskin Professor Fernando Torres-Gil has co-authored a book on the shifting demographics of the U.S. titled “The Politics of a Majority-Minority Nation: Aging, Diversity, and Immigration.” In the next 30 years, the older population of the United States is expected to double and the country will become a majority-minority society. Torres-Gil and co-author Jacqueline Angel of the University of Texas, Austin, provide an in-depth examination of these demographic trends, which will undoubtedly affect the politics of aging, health, retirement security and immigration reform. The authors identify three forces that must be understood: “a politics of aging that includes generational tensions; conflicts over diversity and the need for immigrants; and the class divisions emanating from an economics of aging that may see greater poverty among the elderly.” Torres-Gil and Angel offer guidance for politicians and policymakers seeking to address these changes to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. Torres-Gil is a professor of social welfare and public policy at UCLA Luskin and director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging. His career spans the academic, professional and policy arenas, and he is a nationally recognized authority on health care, entitlement reform and the politics of aging.


Older Adults, Minorities Will Redefine ‘the Next America,’ Writes Torres-Gil

A commentary on the changing demographics of older adults and minorities in the United States, co-authored by Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Juan Fernando Torres-Gil, was published in the Dallas Morning News. Torres-Gil and co-author Jacqueline L. Angel, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, caution lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that these changes will redefine “the next America” in important ways. “By 2050, the United States will be driven by two demographics, majority-minority and older people,” wrote Torres-Gil and Angel. “This dynamic of twin demographic trends — a doubling of the older population and minorities and immigrants becoming the majority — will create political competition between older whites and younger racial and ethnic groups over scarce public resources, such as taxes to preserve Social Security versus reinvesting in public education,” added the co-authors of the recently published book, “the Politics of a Majority-Minority Nation: Aging, Diversity, and Immigration.”


 

UCLA Luskin Planning Team Receives National Award Project about age-friendly outdoor environments is honored by American Planning Association

A project by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs about age-friendly outdoor environments has picked up another honor — this time an Achievement Award presented by the American Planning Association (APA).

The winner is among 12 Achievement Award recipients chosen by a jury of planners as examples of good planning work. The recipients are recognized collectively at an awards luncheon held during APA’s National Planning Conference, which is set for May 6-9, 2017, in New York City.

The UCLA Luskin project was designated as a silver winner in the category: National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice. It had qualified for consideration at the national level by previously being honored in 2016 by the APA Los Angeles Section, which recognizes the “best of planning” from cities, agencies and nonprofits to consulting firms and individuals.

Anastasia Louaitou-Sideris

“Placemaking for an Aging Population,” funded by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and the Archstone Foundation, was led by principal investigator and Urban Planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. It provides information about the park needs and preferences of older, low-income adults living in inner-city neighborhoods.

Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also associate provost for academic planning at UCLA, worked on the study with Social Welfare professor Lené Levy-Storms and Madeline Brozen, associate director for external relations for the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, and program manager of the Complete Streets Initiative. Brozen is also an alumna of the Luskin Urban Planning program.

“Older adults represent a fast growing segment of the population, and U.S. cities are now beginning to realize the imperative of creating age-friendly environments,” Loukaitou-Sideris said in a previous story about the project. She said that while parks can offer many benefits to seniors, “if planners wish to see more seniors visiting parks, they should carefully consider their needs and tastes, and incorporate their voices in park design and programming. Our study seeks to do just that.”

Luskin graduate student researchers — and now alumni — for the project were Lynn Chen SW Ph.D. ’13 and Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) graduates Liz Devietti, Hannah Gustafson and Lucia Phan. Lia Marshall, a doctoral student in Social Welfare, also was on the research team.

More information about the UCLA Luskin project and a list of all 2017 APA award winners may be found on the APA website.

Honored for Contributions to Gerontology and Geriatrics Education UCLA Luskin adjunct professor emerita JoAnn Damron-Rodriguez is recognized as a leading educator in the field of aging

By Stan Paul

JoAnn Damron-Rodriguez, adjunct professor emerita of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, has become the first UCLA faculty member to receive the Clark Tibbitts Award from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE).

Damron-Rodriguez received the 2017 award, which is given each year to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of gerontology and geriatrics education, at the Washington, D.C.-based AGHE’s annual meeting held March 10, 2017, in Miami. The award honors Clark Tibbetts (1903-1985) as an architect of the field of gerontological education.

AGHE, which has bestowed the award annually since 1981, is dedicated to education, training and research programs in the field of aging, and counts more than 160 institutional members throughout the United States, Canada and abroad.

In accepting the award, Damron-Rodriguez, a licensed clinical social worker who earned master’s and Ph.D. degrees in social welfare at UCLA, delivered a lecture titled, “Gerontology: Cultural Change, Competence and Creativity.”

“Gerontologists are taking the lead worldwide to build, with our communities, the future of purposeful living for the 50-plus population,” said Damron-Rodriguez, who has previously received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award. She is a federally appointed member of the Veteran’s Health Administration Gerontology and Geriatrics Advisory Committee.

Luskin Lecture Peers Into Future of an Aging America AARP’s Jo Ann Jenkins urges society to ‘disrupt aging’ with a fresh outlook on the nation’s increasingly older population — and how society must change as a result

By Les Dunseith

The number of Americans age 85 and older now constitutes the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.

The second-fastest growing age group? Those age 100 and older.

The impact on society of increased longevity thanks to advances in medicine and healthier lifestyles was a centerpiece of a presentation by Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series held Feb. 7, 2017.

Jenkins, whose bestselling book “Disrupt Aging” also served as the title for her lecture, talked about the necessity to rethink how we view the aging process in the years ahead.

“It’s not just about adding years to the end of life. It’s about changing the way we live throughout our lives,” Jenkins told a crowd of more than 200 people at Skirball Cultural Center. “Our ability to live longer, healthier and more productive lives is one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. And yet we don’t see it that way. We often view it as a problem rather than an accomplishment.”

She urged the audience to think about a youngster they know today, perhaps a child or grandchild around 10 years old. Current research thinking predicts that child will have about a 50/50 chance of living to be 100.

She also noted that gerontology experts speculate that the first person who will live to be age 150 has already been born. “In this audience,” she joked, and the room erupted in laughter.

Her point, of course, is that increased longevity for a significant portion of the population not only impacts healthcare and public policy and the infrastructure of communities, but also the way people deal with the aging process and its impacts on their loved ones and themselves.

“The way people are aging is changing, but our attitudes and our stereotypes have not changed,” Jenkins said in an interview prior to the lecture. “I would like for us to be this ageless society. So that regardless of your age, you are judged on the quality of your mind and what you bring to the workplace, or what you bring into the environment. And that it’s not about being a particular age.”

Coping with the societal impact of the demographic reality is a challenge that “we find ourselves woefully unprepared” to deal with, said UCLA Luskin urban planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who is also UCLA’s associate provost for academic planning. “Most seniors live in cities, but the cities are not really designed, planned or developed for them.”

New policies and approaches are needed to successfully adjust to an aging population. “Older adults are equal citizens who have a right to expect the same rights and benefits and amenities from cities as other groups,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “This is not yet happening. The onus is on the people who are the city builders, the policymakers, the planners, the politicians.”

Because those are the types of people who work and study at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, hosting a visit by Jenkins was a natural fit. She is the CEO of an influential national organization that has about 38 million members over age 50.

The Luskin Lecture by Jenkins was also an example of a growing relationship between the university and AARP that was fostered by Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, over the past few years while he served on the organization’s board of directors.

“UCLA is the premier university when it comes to geriatrics and the biomedical side of gerontology,” Torres-Gil said in advance of the lecture. “UCLA, as a university, has tremendous research strength in issues of aging.”

AARP is “beginning to understand what we can do for them,” he said about UCLA and its research, educational and planning capabilities. “In a nation becoming old and moving to majority-minority status, AARP needs to take a leadership role in responding to multicultural populations and the nexus with aging.”

People at UCLA in fields of study such as medicine, gerontology, public policy and urban planning “have an enormous opportunity to rethink the course of life,” Jenkins said. “If we are going to live to be 100, how might that change the way we educate — not only the youth, but all of us — throughout the lifespan?”

California and Los Angeles, in particular, present a perfect opportunity for organizations such as AARP to achieve a better understanding of the needs of older Americans from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. One aspect of that effort is a $300,000 grant from AARP to help fund the research of faculty members such as Loukaitou-Sideris, whose studies of the public environment in and around cities have previously noted shortcomings related to the needs of older residents, particularly those in minority populations.

In a question and answer session that followed the lecture and was moderated by Torres-Gil, he asked for Jenkins’ perspective on diversity given the fact that so many of those entering old age are from ethnic minority populations.

“We at AARP have a huge role to play in showing how nonprofit organizations ought to be community partners at the local level,” Jenkins responded. “Our goal at AARP is to be in your life every day, concerned about the issues that are important to you, not just necessarily about what’s important to AARP. And that absolutely includes diverse communities all across this country.”

Not only are people living longer, but their expectations for quality of life are changing as well. This notion of rethinking what it means to grow old is one that Jenkins has championed since she became the leader of AARP in 2014, and it is the core message of “Disrupt Aging.”

“We ought to accept our age and feel good about where we are in life,” Jenkins said. “Among our members, many of them are not retiring. They might be leaving a particular job, but it’s to do something different.”

Still, she noted, American society is obsessed with age. When people are asked what they are most likely to lie about, age is the top answer. “But what if we could eliminate our preoccupation with a number? For example, what if we decided that middle age started at 65? What would that do to your own preconceptions?” Jenkins asked.

“It’s not our own aging that we need to fight against,” Jenkins said during the lecture. “It’s the ageist attitudes and perceptions that permeate society and play such a huge role in our culture.”

She acknowledged that aging does create challenges that older Americans wrestle with every day. “As we get older, many of us find things that we have always taken for granted more difficult to achieve,” she said. “Our wants and our needs change, but our environment does not always adapt to address those changes.”

In her view, the capacity to deal successfully with that reality is an issue that impacts individuals, governments and businesses in equal measure. “We blame ourselves. Instead of changing our environment to fit our needs, we bemoan getting older,” she said.

Efforts by AARP and by researchers such as Loukaitou-Sideris seek ways to make communities more livable for an aging population. Jenkins cited a research example that focuses on the fact that many older people have trouble getting in and out of a car.

“We attribute it to the weakening of the leg muscles and the loss of sense of balance rather than considering the inadequacies of a car seat that does not swivel and allow us to emerge straight forward rather than trying to slide out of the car sideways,” Jenkins said. “Car seats were not made with a 75-year-old in mind.”

The idea of refocusing our thinking to better accommodate an aging population also applies to communities and housing. Today, more people are living into their 80s and 90s and want to stay in their homes as long as possible.

“Basic access should be built into the homes, just like wiring and plumbing,” Jenkins said. “Living in a community with services nearby and having a home that accommodates our needs are tremendous assets for those of us who want to age in place.”