‘Not enough are fearless to move forward’.
So, here we are, people from all walks of life, different professional experience, different training, at different stages of our careers and life, different parts of the country (and Canada) brought together by a workshop/retreat called ‘Ecological Health Across The Lifespan’ sponsored by CHE, the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Such a workshop is based on the incredible audacious belief in the power of humanity, a seeming throwback to the 60s. Our trainers/presenters are not TED talkers but are seasoned listeners who operate from an accrued knowledge firmly rooted in their respective disciplines and social activism.
We talk about the web of causality, about how system change can be affected, about environmental factors that impact chronic disease, from toxic stress to the lack of beauty in our built environments (good design is not a luxury). We talk about the fact that healthy aging starts before we are born. We talk about spirited citizens and the myth of Alzheimers. We talk about how income disparity is a huge determinant of brain health. We talk about that the average American eats out 6x a week and that 30% of our food comes from these outside sources. We talk about that we do not know anything about the health effects of a lot of chemicals we are currently exposed to.
We talk about aging and disability. How there is a struggle for resources to live to one’s full potential when one’s capacity or abilities are reduced as an aging person.
The story we all have prior to a decline in cognitive functions persists. Being healthy is for this story to continue.
It is necessary to create conditions for such understanding of health, from nutrition to aesthetically authentic and adaptive environments. Who carries the social cost of ill health? There is no incentive to execute this broader view of health unless there is something “in” it.
How to accomplish the shift to a broader view of health?
1. Creating empathy: Personal encounters, personal stories, videos. A personal story creates enormous empathy. How can you ‘upscale’ this story to a general rule, law, tax? Example: Donations flow for individuals whose personal story touches people, less so for general missions that would positively affect many.
2. Creating and fostering communities is part of the health picture. Example: Singapore provides a $50,000 grant to children who move to within 1km of their aged parents.
3. Start messaging much earlier: The target group for change should not only be people who are moving into their second phase of life or are already in it. Messaging has to start earlier to allow for a shift and for actions to become preventative and forward looking. Example: Intergenerational learning.
4. There are different doors we can enter through: We will never have enough social workers. The question is who is trusted to come into your home? They are potentially the ones who can provide service. What gateway and sensitivity training programs can be developed for this diverse group of people. Example: In natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, contractors become service learners as they assist people in making their homes livable.
5. Learn from disaster management: Natural disasters are now becoming a regular occurrence, from hurricanes to wild fires to floods. Can we learn from disaster response for dealing with the urgency of a rapidly aging, underfunded population?
6. Economic Incentive: The social cost of ill health has to be distributed more evenly to incentivize preventative action. Example: A mandatory health care system for all.
What can I contribute? Stadler Action List:
1.Empathy and Design for Aging: Continue to promote the understanding of human needs during this phase of life among designers.
2. Connect conceptually to a broader ecological perspective: ‘Activity Environments’, aesthetics as part of human health. Understand better the impact of design solutions on human health and explain this better.
3. Continue work with the interdisciplinary forum ‘At Home With Growing Old’: Foster interdisciplinary thinking and networking.
4.Continue to learn about how design can respond to the complexities of aging: Take my design work further in terms of understanding ergonomics for everyday tasks such as cooking or bathing, how older adults react to sensory stimulus. Collaborate more with occupational therapists and psycho therapists.
5. Continue to further the understanding what ‘age friendly’ means: Test and pilot a ‘lifespan’ home certification and action items under 1. through 4.
6. Interdisciplinary teaching: Continue to educate students and social service professionals about the potential contribution of the built environment (especially the home) to human health and care giving/receiving.