By Walter Leutz, Heller School, Brandeis University
What makes this a “healthy” community to grow old in? What could make it better? What do older adults do to be healthier and to make this a healthier community?
These are the questions asked by “Healthy Aging: Greenfield and Waltham,” a study that was conducted last year by Professor Walter Leutz and 13 co-researchers, who are older adult residents of these two communities. During his sabbatical in 2015 from the Heller School at Brandeis University, Leutz recruited and trained a team of co-researchers in each town using a “participatory action research” (PAR) model. He says that “PAR gets older people involved in the design and carrying out of the project.” Between July and October the teams conducted 30 interviews of town and agency staff and 16 focus groups of older adults.
For the purpose of the study, “health” was not just defined as access to care and services; its expansive definition also includes positive social relationships with family and friends, access to transportation and affordable housing, feeling safe and secure, having a good diet, being physically active, the ability to pursue enjoyable activities and be involved with your community, and, perhaps most importantly, having a purpose in life.
Between October and January, the teams analyzed their interview and focus group data, as well as other demographic and service information in each town. Between January and April the teams wrote a short and long report for each town and reviewed findings and recommendations with advisory committees of seniors and agency staff in each town. “We were hoping to find things that people in the town could take action on, and I think we succeeded,” says Dr. Leutz.
The reports include: