OHSU Researchers Unveil Results of Neighborhood Livability Study for Seniors

08/26/03    Portland, Ore.

Study results to be presented at neighborhood meetings on Aug. 27 and 28

Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University plan to release the results of a Portland neighborhood senior livability study during two meetings later this week. At the meetings on Aug. 27 and 28, neighbors, including study participants, will have an opportunity to review the extensive data that was gathered and discuss the results in a "town hall" format.

"The goal of this study was to better understand the role of the neighborhood environment in the promotion of healthy aging," explained study principal investigator Yvonne Michael, Sc.D., an assistant professor of public health and preventive medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. "With people living longer than ever before, the elderly population of Portland and the rest of the country is growing rapidly. To ensure healthy aging and independent living, communities must be appropriately designed so that people can be active throughout their lives. The study hopes to present findings to raise awareness among policy-makers, urban designers, and health professionals that the impact of the neighborhood environment should not be overlooked in efforts to promote physical activity among seniors."

To understand the neighborhood livability needs and desires of Portland seniors, researchers selected neighborhoods in northeast and southeast Portland for the study. Those neighborhoods included: Ardenwald, Buckman, Richmond, Creston-Kenilworth, Montavilla, Sullivan's Gulch, Woodlawn, Cathedral Park and St. Johns. Researchers then assessed several livability issues in each neighborhood, including the quality of sidewalks, traffic, safety, access to retail businesses such as grocery stores, and wheelchair access.

The scientific team then conducted discussion groups with elderly neighborhood residents to determine what attributes they required or preferred to stay active in their neighborhood.

"People that we talked with identified many of the urban design features we expected to be important: good sidewalks, safe neighborhoods, access to shopping and other services, " explained Michael. "We were surprised that the seniors consistently told us that the neighborhood's social environment was at least as important to staying active as these built environment factors. For example, when asked what factors make it easy or enjoyable to stay active, one discussion group participant said, 'I think it is people... you can have all the facilities, but if you wouldn't venture out your door, then what good would all the other things be? I think, to me, the people are the most important."

The study coincides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) nationwide effort to promote physical activity through better community design. Funding for this research project was provided by National Institute of Aging and the Borchard Center Foundation for Law and Aging.

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