I look out and see the red land with traces of canyon and water 30,000 feet below. My thoughts turn inward watching the wrinkles of the earth ebb and flow as we pass by. I reflect on the last four days; the people, the places, the sharing of research and ideas. At Environments for Aging (EFA) we come together with a common purpose and goals. Competitors and strangers we are, and yet we greet each other with respect and understanding. I am humbled and awed to be part of this industry. To have the opportunity, no, the privilege to shape places where people live out their golden years, to make the place not only lovely, but engaging and enriching. I realize how much I have to learn.
This year at EFA much of the focus was on improving the wellness of the resident. Did you know that health is not simply the absence of disease but rather is the wellness of the mind, body, and spirit? Did you also know that lifestyle determines up to 70% of how we age? In the opening Keynote address Dr. Roger Landry, author of “Live Long, Die Short” challenged us to consider 10 questions as we design senior living spaces that help people rediscover what we inherited, getting back to our hunter, gatherer roots. Referencing Blue Zone principles, the topic we will be speaking on at Leading Age Illinois in April, he asked:
- How do you stimulate growth over decline?
- How do we promote movement?
- How do we engage brains?
- How do we encourage connection?
- Can we help lower risk?
- How do we make acting your age a bad thing?
- Can we promote mindfulness and lower stress?
- Can we promote purpose and meaning?
- Where are the kids?
- What about fun?
These questions and the rest of his talk set an ideal tone to kick off the conference. As I made my way through the many sessions over the next couple of days I was enchanted by the possibilities, overwhelmed by the responsibility, and astounded by all the research taking place to help inform.
The next morning we heard from P.K. Beville and the strides she’s made in helping us crack The Dementia Code. Her interactive presentation left us with a deeper understanding of the daily trials a person with dementia goes through and the patience and compassion front line staff must have.
In one session on Designing for the Senses an audience member pointed out the irony of learning about the importance of connecting with nature as we had been placed in windowless rooms with lighting that tricked our circadian rhythm for several days. Wouldn’t it be nice to give ourselves what we know is necessary to design for others? All chuckled. What about an integrated village concept that embraces wellness principles and partners with local businesses to make the senior living community the heart and hub? It’s being done at Union Village in Henderson, Nevada.
That night we joined others for dinner and met a fascinating designer in her 70’s whose zeal for life and captivating stories made us further appreciate that we have more to offer as we age, not less. It’s easy to focus on the challenges of our industry: budgets, deadlines, difficult people, regulations, but the passion and progress I saw this week left me feeling hopeful. As I look towards home and the work that awaits me tomorrow I am invigorated by the possibilities.