Institute on Aging presents certificate to Portland

Alex Lyons, a spry 71-year-old, waited for the MAX train at PSU last Thursday after signing up to audit a linguistics class through the Institute on Aging.

Alex Lyons, a spry 71-year-old, waited for the MAX train at PSU last Thursday after signing up to audit a linguistics class through the Institute on Aging.

 “Studying languages is my passion,” he said. “Take the Greek word system—you can say things with a degree of exactitude and precision that you can’t in English.”

Portland is a mecca for Lyon and other seniors, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Officials sent a certificate to the PSU Institute on Aging proclaiming Portland a member of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities late this spring. Institute administrators presented the certificate to City Council June 8.

“An age-friendly city is actually a city that’s friendly for people of all ages and abilities,” said Margaret Neal, director of the institute. “It adapts its structures and services to be accessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities. It emphasizes enablement rather than disablement.”

Portland was one of 33 cities across the world to participate in a 2006 WHO study of age-friendly indicators. WHO founded the Global Network in 2010, and Mayor Sam Adams’ application was approved last June. The official membership certificate arrived at PSU about a month ago, making Portland one of nine cities worldwide that are part of the network.

“Portland has been selected because of its focus on planning and designing for a population of all ages and disabilities,” said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “The efforts of this network are in close alignment with many of the goals of the Portland plan, emphasizing the development of accessible, safe and healthy neighborhoods to help Portlanders meet their daily needs locally.

The other cities are New York, Manchester, Brussels, Geneva, Melville, Manchester, San Sebastian, County Louth and London, Ontario.

Focus groups that included elders and their caregivers contributed to the WHO study, culling eight different areas of “age-friendliness” in Portland.

“Language and inclusion matter,” said Neal. “People really liked the term that TriMet has adopted for older adults—‘honored citizen’—and ‘long-term living’ is another term that people mentioned as liking rather than ‘long-term care.'”

Portland seniors want housing to be more affordable and accessible, the study showed. Employment discrimination was also an issue cited by participants in the study.

 According to Jerry Cohen, director of AARP Oregon, common sense is often the answer to questions.

 “We’ve been engaged in many ways in terms of public policy, but often it’s the little things, things like a changing the handles in a home—a lever instead of a doorknob,” he said.

PSU’s Institute on Aging was one of the first geriatrics research centers at its founding in 1969. The Senior Adult Learning Center and the Oregon Geriatric Center are longstanding cornerstones of the institute, joined by the Aging Matters Initiative in 2008 after PSU alumni Keren Brown Wilson and Michael DeShane donated $1 million to research efforts at the institute.

“We’ve seen too many well-intentioned efforts fail due to a lack of clear understanding of issues confronting older persons,” DeShane said. “We hope the initiative will generate new opportunities.”

Institute administrators hope to propose an action plan to City Council next summer.

Meanwhile, 30 or so PSU students are taking Health Aspects of Aging this summer, a class offered through the institute.

Professor William Schutzer began the first session of the class with a presentation depicting two sixty-year-old men, one tall and muscular and wearing a gamely smile and the other wrinkled and sagging.

“The number of years an individual has been alive is a useless definition,” Schutzer said to his students. “This class is going to be about finding out why these guys are different.” ?