Durable Growth, Transportation

Urbanism and senior living: The insights keep coming

Walking setting in Soho, London

Walking setting in Soho, London

With Thanksgiving Day upon us, and with many folks already traveling, I’ll limit myself today to a handful of links.  But they’re good links.

About a month ago, I wrote a series of posts on urbanism and senior living, from the how senior life might be conducted downtown  to getting around without a driver’s license to walkability.  But even after those posts were put to bed, good thinking on the subject continued to arrive in my computer.

If you only have time to follow one link today, this is the one I’d recommend.  A recently opened Alzheimer’s and dementia care facility in the Netherlands has been configured like a walkable village center.  The patients, all of whom are in the advanced stages of their disease, live in bedrooms of what appear to be single-family homes, often decorated in a style consistent with earlier periods of their lives.  They have the freedom to wander, but not to leave, under the watchful eyes of attendants who double as gardeners and postal clerks.

Compared to standard U.S. residential care facilities, the Dutch village is an expensive way to care for seniors with dementia, but not impossibly so.  The monthly cost is about $8,000, compared to a more typical $5,000 to $6,000 in the U.S.  And the approach is successful, with the residents more comfortable and living longer than those under conventional care.

My wife was diagnosed three years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  She’s coping well with the condition, with more grace that I’d likely muster, but she knows that the extent of her daily life is shrinking, with a reduced ability to travel and to interact with unfamiliar people.

I asked her for thoughts on this article.  She was immediately enthusiastic.  She has a group of on-line acquaintances, all with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  In my wife’s words, “We know we’re no longer living normal lives, but a place like this retains the illusion of a normal life and that would be important to us.  I’m not surprised that the residents live longer.”

The message for urbanists is if that protected walkable settings can be successful in the care of advanced dementia patients, then walkable urban settings, with limited cars and lots of plazas and small retail shops for daily life, can provide a comfortable home for seniors who are only beginning their final decline.

Building on the subject, Harry Grabar, writing in CityLab, notes a dual function that walkability can provide.  Walkable settings can retain seniors and their financial resources in a community.  And those same walkable settings can attract the creative millennials who will provide the next wave of economic prosperity for the community.

Writing in New York Times, Harriet Edelson notes that most seniors live beyond their years of driving, by seven years for men and ten years for women and should therefore include non-driving transportation in their retirement plans.

Lastly, Eric Dishman of Intel, in speaking to a civic club in Portland, Oregon, lists the efforts underway to find uses for technology in helping seniors age safely in place.  (His speech was interesting, but not particularly compelling, I’d check out the other links first.)  I applaud the efforts by Intel and others, but note that the place where seniors age needn’t be the suburban family home, but perhaps should be a downtown apartment in a walkable setting.

As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with parents or other aging family members, give a little thought to where you want them to live their final years.  And think about how urbanism can help fill a need.

Have a good holiday.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

Comments are closed.