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  • Monica Eastway

What is an Eco Gerontologist?




Oh wait, you might be wondering, what is gerontology?


Ok, let's start there.


According to the Gerontological Society of America:


"Gerontology is the study of aging processes and individuals across the life course.

It includes:

  • The study of physical, mental, and social changes in people as they age;

  • The investigation of changes in society resulting from our aging population; and

  • The application of this knowledge to policies and programs" (GSA, n.d.).

As a gerontologist dedicated to improving the quality of life and promoting well-being for all ages, I refrain from 'othering.'

"Don't be Ageist on Yourself!"

Interestingly, research within 'senior living' communities (active adult (55+), independent, assisted, and memory care) found residents report disassociating themselves from the residents they perceive as older, disabled, and different from themselves (Ewen et al., 2019).

I have witnessed this form of 'othering' while working in a corporate-owned assisted living and memory care community. Ageism is deep-rooted in our psyche, and it seems all ages participate in stigmatizing 'old age.'

I will never forget hearing my great-grandmother screaming as I walked toward her room, "Get me out of here! I don't want to be around all these old people!"; she was admitted to a skilled nursing facility after a fall. She was 92.

When we break free from the habit of 'othering,' we experience compassion and a deep sense of solidarity.

WE are all old. WE are all interdependent. WE are all vulnerable.

WE are taking matters into our own hands.

WE are empowered catalysts of positive change.

I am wholeheartedly committed to innovating and co-creating new models of living and care. I am not separate from those I serve; I, too, am old, vulnerable, and interdependent.

Dismayed by the daily unethical practices I witnessed working in a corporate-owned senior living community, I launched myself as a meaningful engagement professional. This experience was invaluable as I got an insider view of nearly all my area's for-profit senior living and memory care communities.

WOWZA!

Unethical practices are commonplace, and the business model of 'living and care' prioritizes increasing profits while lowering costs. The care team was underpaid, overworked, under-valued and many of the caregiver’s faced food and home insecurity. I became extraordinarily disheartened and decided it was time to go back to school and innovate change.

I graduated with a Master of Science in Gerontology from the University of Indianapolis. UIndy's motto is "Education for Service." While researching for my capstone project, I learned:


Older adults 65 and over are the fastest-growing segment of our nation's homeless, and the number of homeless older adults is forecasted to triple by 2030 (Culhane et al., 2019).

Take a moment and re-read the previous sentence out loud.

WHAT!?

Why has this not gone Viral?!

Wait, is it possible, 'othering' has a role?

Othering doesn't just occur with age; poor people are also 'othered.'

Them, not Us.

Ever heard of NIMBYSM? 'Not in my backyard.'

Folks claim to want to help the homeless but keep 'them' out of sight.

Sound familiar?

We not only fear 'oldness,' we fear 'poverty.'

All Ages Need Housing

Nonprofit, community-based, intergenerational, elder-centered, eco-focused models of living and care that are affordable, provide lifetime housing for homeless and home insecure older adults (and people of all ages) -- doesn't make the list of 'Top Senior Housing Trends for 2022'.

Top senior housing trends focus on high-middle income cohorts, not low-poverty income. And top senior housing trends for 2022 make no mention of housing the homeless and housing insecure.


Eco Gerontology:

Eco gerontology is a branch of environmental gerontology. Environmental gerontology, a specialization within gerontology, seeks to understand the impact our natural, physical, and social environments have on our ability to age optimally.

WE are all aging in a climate-changing world.

"Healthy aging and healthy longevity for most people- now and in the future- will not be possible without a healthy planet" (PAHO, 2022).

Eco gerontology spotlights our natural environments. It is well-known that the natural environment (public parks, green and blue space, gardens, green care farms) contribute to longevity and healthy aging.

On the flip side, the harmful impact lack of access to the natural world has on our health and well-being is becoming known. Many people are aging in nature-deprived areas due to their home location (including lack of a home) or living in an institution that does not encourage or facilitate one's ability to access Nature.

My current work as an eco gerontologist focuses on knowledge sharing. There is a movement toward getting children more connected to Nature. A keen awareness that children and adults suffer from what Richard Louv calls 'nature-deficient disorder'; however, older adults are often not mentioned.

I can assure you, some of the most nature-deprived people I have met are those living in (and working in!) skilled, assisted living, and so-called memory-care communities, our most vulnerable neighbors.

For the past decade, I have been drafting a community-based model of living and care called ECO Generation Park. Through knowledge sharing, I intend to generate co-creators and financial support for kickstarting the ECO Generation Park pilot community.

During my last session with the 'resident council' of the senior living community I worked in, I shared this Vision with the residents; I wanted to hear their thoughts. From a vivacious resident, age 98, one of the first questions was,

"When can I move in?"

Innovating the best models of living and care involves ensuring older adults have a place at the design table.

ECO Generation Park prioritizes housing our most vulnerable neighbors.

ECO-Generation Park is an innovative housing model to address older adult home insecurity by prioritizing an eco-focused, intergenerational, learn, work and live community generating impact collaboration to supply our nation with options that support our most vulnerable people to thrive.

View the Vision

Older people are often out of the equation regarding climate change research and policy (PAHO, 2022), even though population aging is occurring all over the planet!

One of the key messages from The UN Decade of Healthy Ageing in a Climate-Changing World is:


"Older people are agents of change in actions for the climate and for the social transformations necessary to adapt to, mitigate and build resilience to different climate change scenarios (PAHO, 2022)".


I repeat, "Older People are Agents of Change!"

*** Clapping ***

The more WE, as in:

WE, the old.

WE, the interdependent.

WE, the vulnerable.

WE, the poor.

Take the matter into our own hands, WE become an unstoppable catalyst for positive change, improving the lives of all ages while growing the biodiversity of our beloved planet.

The more WE connect with Nature, the more WE are inspired to take action to ensure our environments, natural, physical, and social, thrive. We can co-create a green movement from coast to coast through education and knowledge sharing.

A few days ago, a college student I met while volunteering at a local community garden interviewed me. She is working on a project showcasing the 'environmentalists' of Monterey County, where I reside. I was honored, and it was refreshing to share eco gerontology and the ECO Generation Park model of living and care. She mentioned how many of her friends (in their 20s) have lost hope and asked me,

"What gives you Climate Hope?"

I thought for a moment and realized this work, as an eco gerontologist, is my fuel for hope. I vision a nature-inspired and community-based world. Instead of 'othering,' we live in harmony, neighbors helping neighbors, neighbors assisting all living creatures on Earth, our shared home.

We are the future we want to see in our world.

With Gratitude,

Monica Eastway, M.S.

Eco Gerontologist



Want to see first-hand how eco gerontology has enabled the Garden Girls to age optimally? Eco Gerontology promotes nature-inspired and community-based living, for all ages. Aging Optimally beyond Henopause:::



References


Culhane, D., Doran, K., Schretzman, M., Johns, E., Treglia, D., Byrne, T., Kuhn, R. (2019). The emerging crisis of aged homelessness in the us: Could cost avoidance in health care fund housing solutions? International Journal of Population Data Science, 4(3). https://ijpds.org/article/view/1185


Ewen, H. H., Dassel, K. B., Chahal, J. K., Roberts, A. R., & Azugbene, E. (2019). Social lives and cliques within senior housing communities. Housing and society, 46(3), 129-143. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7500534/pdf/nihms-1534044.pdf


Jimenez, M. P., DeVille, N. V., Elliott, E. G., Schiff, J. E., Wilt, G. E., Hart, J. E., & James, P. (2021). Associations between nature exposure and health: A review of the evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(9), 4790. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8125471/


Martin, L., White, M. P., Hunt, A., Richardson, M., Pahl, S., & Burt, J. (2020). Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 68, 101389. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200213090912.htm


Mullaney, T. (2022). Top senior housing trends for 2022. Senior Housing News.

https://seniorhousingnews.com/2022/01/02/top-senior-housing-trends-for-2022/


Pan American Health Organization. (2022, January 24). The un decade of healthy ageing 2021-2030 in a climate-changing world. https://www.paho.org/en/documents/decade-healthy-ageing-2021-2030-climate-changing-world

The Gerontological Society of America. (n.d.). What is gerontology? https://www.geron.org/about-us/our-vision-mission-and-values/what-is-gerontology





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