Dementia-Friendly City Centers and New Models in Dementia Care

with Dr. Emily Roberts,

Associate Professor of Interior Design, Oklahoma State University

This week on the Art of Aging, host Michael Hughes chats with Dr. Emily Roberts, Associate Professor of Interior Design, Oklahoma State University. During the episode, Mike and Emily discuss the importance of environmental gerontology and innovative dementia care. Dr. Roberts shares insights on dementia-friendly environments, emphasizing the need for spaces that offer normalcy and independence for those with cognitive decline. She introduces the concept of active aging, the benefits of intergenerational connections. The episode also explores Dr. Roberts’ personal reflections on aging, redesigning care for older adults, and more.
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Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Dr. Robert’s background and research (1:06)
  • Environmental Gerontology and Aging (3:30)
  • Universal Design and Aging (5:32)
  • Proactive Aging and Design Philosophy (7:59)
  • Dr. Robert’s Passion for Dementia Care (10:35)
  • Challenges in Care Settings (14:37)
  • Dementia Villages and Agency (20:00)
  • Dementia Villages and Sense of Place (22:48)
  • Humanity in Cognitive Decline (24:04)
  • Active Aging for Life Framework (28:59)
  • Intergenerational Initiatives (32:10)
  • Challenges in Care Centers (34:58)
  • Abundant Aging Questions with Dr. Roberts (37:50)
  • Final thoughts and takeaways (40:49)


Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit


Michael Hughes 00:07
Hello and welcome to The Art of aging which is part of the abundant aging podcast series from United Church Homes. On this show, we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with positive and empowering conversations that challenge, encourage and inspire everyone everywhere to age with abundance. Our guest today is Dr. Emily Roberts, and I’m so excited to have Emily on the show. She is an associate professor at Oklahoma State University where her work has been defined under the theme of and I love this environmental gerontology. I want to be like that when I grow up. She has a Master’s of Science in gerontology and a PhD in architectural studies with a focus on the intersection between environment and behavior. Over the last decade, she has had a particular focus on researching the aging process and how it relates to one’s physical environment. This broad lens allows her to address the wellbeing and care of older adults and their families from several perspectives, in particular, the provision of healthy environments, technologies and supportive organizations through integrated programming systems and interventions. In addition to her role as the Associate Professor in the College of Education and Human Sciences, she is the director of the NIH sponsored human environmental factors lateral. Everyone needs an acronym. So that acronym is H. EFL, an interactive design lab which supports the identification of opportunities for improving quality of life for vulnerable populations and their caregivers, both within the home and in care communities. But it doesn’t stop there. She also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of aging and environment is the environment environmental Gerontology network share chair for the Environmental Design Research Association and has co edited a book which I have here called a redesign the continuum of care for older adults, the future of long term care settings, which is publicly published in 2023. Welcome, Emily.

Dr. Emily Roberts 01:50
Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s great to be here today.

Michael Hughes 01:53
Awesome. Well, two things. First of all, I want to put a plug in for our Ruth Frost Parker Center, which is the sponsor of this podcast series. Ross Parker Center is United Church Holmes’s thought leadership arm, check it out on www DOT United Church typing center, more information about our research, our thought leadership, our annual symposium, and with our primary mission of ending ageism. Second plug, I’m going to hold up Emily’s terrific booklet she collected, which redesigned the continuum of care for older adults, the future of long term care settings. And I just call it a couple of the subjects that are in this book. Anything from bridging the digital divide, smart aging in place in the future of Jarrow technology. I love that term, a theory of creating a concept of wholeness across long term care continuum. And of course, what she has written about what we’re gonna be talking about today, which is adaptive reuse, you know, these concepts of how can we adaptively reuse our existing assets for things like dementia programs, memory care, and things of that nature? So I’m going to continue talking so I can ask you a question, Emily. But I just drink it all in. And I just, you know, that’s nighttime reading for me. So again, you have what it sounds like my dream job. You’re an environmental gerontologist, which as we said, looks at how one’s relationship with both the undesigned. And the design world changes as we age. Is that a good way of explaining it? I mean, how does our relationship I

Dr. Emily Roberts 03:30
think that’s, that hits it right on the head? Absolutely. I think it’s the confluence of the individual in the environment that they’re in whether they’re at home, or their long term care, memory care, you know, adult day care, what is how does the physical environment and the social environment support that person? You know, we look at designed for children, right, and designed for young adults. And so this is really focused on a population that is growing, as we know, by leaps and bounds. So by 2050, you know, there will be more older people than there will be young people. So where does that put us in terms of a society prepared with our programs and services and the built environment? So yeah, environmental Gerontology is really a lot of things. You know, it’s social psychology, its environmental psychology, its design. And a lot of times it’s just common sense, you know, thinking, what would I want in my environment? Right. And sort of narrowing that Us and Them perspective to what do we need as an aging population?

Michael Hughes 04:44
I love that. And I think my mind kind of goes into two different places right now. One is, I think, the overall concept of universal design. And, you know, occurred if you talk to the folks at IDEO, or some of those labs, you know, I think there’s a terrific documentary that came out about, Gosh, 1015 20 years ago called objectified all about a universal design. And they were talking about garden shears. And you know, an ideal design, garden shears, they design it for the person that would be using it like a handyman who would be using them, you know, two hours a day versus someone who would be using it five times a year. So if you design for the extreme, they say, then the middle will take care of itself. Do you think that’s kind of a throughline? We’re talking about design for older people. Yeah,

Dr. Emily Roberts 05:32
I mean, I think that universal design is exactly what it says, right? It’s for everyone. So it’s not for a specific population. But if we designed for everyone from the, you know, the mom who’s pushing her stroller or has their arms full, to the older adult, that might be using a walker or a wheelchair, that we know we’ve covered our bases. And so if not only our buildings, but our cities are on sidewalks, and you know, street intersections are set up for everyone, then we know that we’re working in the right direction for unity, universal design. It’s, you know, similar to Americans with Disabilities Act ADA standards, but a little bit different in that it’s not, it’s not dictated by law, right? It’s a choice, I’m choosing to incorporate these pieces into my designs. And this is what I talked to my students about, but for them to be thinking about, Okay, what will I need? What will I want? What would I want to see? Do I want something that looks very institutional, or, you know, sort of brutalist? Or do I want something that’s going to be aesthetically pleasing? So in the design world, those are the choices that we have, you know, universal design is not rocket science, but doing it very well and integrating it into the larger schema, then yes, that’s where the creativity comes in.

Michael Hughes 06:55
Then when Emily, we’re, you know, we’re here to talk about the title of this podcast is dementia friendly city centers, new models, and adaptive reuse and dementia care. But if you just be patient I’d love to just talk about one more thing before we get into that particular subject. And that’s this idea of, you know, our progression in aging. There is sort of our mental state in our physical state. And I’m wondering if you’ve had any insights because you know, we talked to a lot of people about aging. And one of the three lines that we hear very often is that I still think I’m in my 40s, I still think I’m in my 30s, I still think I’m in this except now my body is doing things that are just disappointing me. Is there a design philosophy or something that you see as as helpful in as we design spaces for older people that really provide that? I don’t know, more of an emotional support or something as somebody deals with them as their body disappoints them, I guess? Is that question making sense?

Dr. Emily Roberts 07:59
Yeah, I mean, I think being proactive and mindful about where I want to live, you know, as I age is a good start. Yeah, it’s really nice to be in, you know, a big two storey house with a huge yard, that’s great. But there’s going to be a point when I know I’m not going to be able to take care of that I’m not gonna be able to take the stairs. So just be proactive in your thought process, with your spouse or your family. Thinking through, again, where do I want to be? And what do I want to see as I’m aging, and, and we can’t all have everything that we want in our environment, but we can certainly do make some small steps, right, like pre setting up the kinds of cabinets that can be adjusted in case I do have to be in a wheelchair part of the day or, you know, cabinets that raise and lower the way that we can open and close doors, you know, there’s so many different factors. Unfortunately, in our sort of our built environment, there are standards, and the standards are probably going to keep things at a certain cost. And there’s this perception that if I take things outside of those boundaries, that is going to be a lot more expensive. And I don’t think it’s more money. A little bit more thought. Right? Yeah, thinking ahead. And having the people in your life maybe if you know someone who’s in design, or has done those kinds of things to their home, talk to them about it, you know, just find out what did you do? Oh, well, we had some extra support built into our walls so when we do need handrails in our bathroom, we don’t have to go digging into the wall. We know where it is and we can just put those things up.

Michael Hughes 09:36
Yeah and I think you know how you know we dealt with it when we moved. We’ve modified our home. You know, we have like you know dual railings down the stairwells. We walked to the bars and all the rest of it. And then just going back to kind of the universal design element, you know, there’s the same grab bar in the bathroom could be a little shelf at some point for your you know, or I find that I’m using those dual it’s Going up and down the stairs, I feel more confident support just where I am today. So I’m hoping that we’ll see more solutions. And that Universal Design format where it’s good for today is also good for tomorrow. I think people are being over there. Yeah,

Dr. Emily Roberts 10:14
absolutely. Yeah.

Michael Hughes 10:15
But you know, we’re talking about agencies and people advocating for themselves and so on. But really, where you focus your energy is where that may not be the case, you know, people that have cognitive decline, people serving people with dementia, why have you become so passionate about that particular area of gerontology?

Dr. Emily Roberts 10:35
Well, you know, I think there’s a term out there somewhere, that everybody becomes a gerontologist at some point in their life, you know, when they’ve gone through a journey with somebody that’s very important to them, which is exactly what happened to me. So, a dear person in my life, you know, was on that journey with Alzheimer’s, and she didn’t really have anybody that was there to support her at the moment, this was at a time when I was kind of raising my family and doing other things. So my focus was not in care for, you know, memory care or dementia care. But I was so connected to her that I really started to understand what the process was for an individual living with cognitive decline, and the impact and how their physical environment can really impact their ability to do the things that they want to do through their day. I saw it firsthand, if I had not had that experience, I don’t know what it would be doing. I have a design background, but uh, you know, so. So having that experience drove me I mean, literally, I was driven to find out more particularly after she passed away, just about what the connection was between the person’s abilities, or inability to function in an environment, and how we can create environments that can bring back some of those competencies. So that person’s environment fits in the peloton is the Rockstar of environmental gerontology, who was so important in the writings around the idea of the person in their environment. So we’ve seen so probably some of the images of somebody maybe that’s, you know, living in a very large institutional setting, they have a very large dining room, they feel sort of, you know, not very comfortable sitting there. And maybe they have palsy or a tremor, they just are not comfortable, it’s loud. So maybe they stopped eating, they stopped going to the dining area. And what I saw with my family member was when I moved her into a very small home, like setting, which basically was a home, right, with the kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedrooms, it was the it the familiarity of a kitchen, that she could sit down and watch somebody preparing her meals and smell of food being made, maybe help, you know, make something up, sit down for a cup of coffee. She regained that sort of sense of herself that, you know, I want to be interactive, I want to sit down, have a cup of coffee, and maybe something to eat. So, yes, the environment does impact us. And really, that experience with her and watching that process, and that going through that journey really sort of set me on my path. Yeah,

Michael Hughes 13:30
I mean, there’s so much there, too. So we went through this experience, and I’m sorry, that’s certainly a very emotional and taxing experience, you know, and we hear that just with the whole journey around cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s and things like that. And it’s interesting to sort of reflect on the models you saw here, you know, you saw large institutions, you saw smaller states, there’s kind of like a Goldilocks thing, depending on who people are because, you know, small things can mean a lot. I mean, you’re talking about one’s cognitive decline, you have to think that you probably know you’re in cognitive decline, you realize that things are seeing new things, or stimuli and stimulating you in different ways. And that, that affects your ability to engage in whatever, if finding the right place and because you know, there’s no way you’re going to reach a point where you can’t be on your own anymore. And a lot of people have to turn to institutions. So finding the right fit is just really important, right?

Dr. Emily Roberts 14:37
I call it a care setting. Yes, or, you know, a place to live. So, yeah, I mean, yes. For many families that are living with somebody with cognitive decline, you know, the work is there, and they’ve done the best that they can. And I wasn’t necessarily in her life, all that time, but I was sort of in and out and I saw what was going On, it’s okay to have to, for the caregiver to say I can’t do this anymore. But with that, caveat that, but I’m the best person to do it for my family members and for the person that I love. And that’s such a hard decision to give up the control of making sure that this person is safe and well taken care of, unfortunately, with the way that our care system is set up, yes, there are some lovely, wonderful places not always affordable for everybody. So, for instance, in the case of my aunt, May, the person I’m talking about, you know, she didn’t have the funds to go to a very nice place where she was going to be comfortable. Her options were, in my view, just not an option, right. And when I saw what her options were, I said, No, that’s not gonna happen. And I moved her to another state to be close to me, but so our, you know, our care system was set up sort of in the 50s, and the 60s, at the time, when, you know, we were Medicare and Medicaid were sort of coming on board. And we were, I think, as a society, we’re trying to do our best by saying, Okay, if you can’t take care of yourself, we’ll take care of you, but then ended up with a very institutional type of setting, right, where it’s sort of based on the medical model of care, we’re going to make you better, we’re going to take care of you, which takes away everything about me, you know, if I’m coming into that setting, it has nothing to do with me, right, I’m, I can’t fold my socks, I like folding socks, you know, I can’t cook, I can’t have my dog, there institutional, there’s no normalcy to the sort of traditional medical model, it’s, we’re going to take care of you. Well, in a lot of cases, somebody living with cognitive decline doesn’t necessarily need to be taken care of, they just need maybe some extra support. So what I’ve been looking at and with my students and with other colleagues is, you know how to replicate the kind of place where I can continue to do the things that are normal in my day, if I want to fold socks will go started, I can do it, if I want to help cook a meal, or if I want to take a walk, if I want to go pet a dog, if I want to go to the grocery store. So the normalcy of the setting, really, for my aunt, you know, being put in a place where it was a much smaller setting, and it was very home like she reconnected with herself. I guess that’s the best way to put it. So that normalcy brought back the things that she liked to do like sitting and having a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. What we’ve been looking at is trying to do that on a larger scale. So looking at the idea of how we create a setting where somebody can spend their day. So it’s not just inside, being able to go outside and, and do the things that we like to do on our own right with a sense of autonomy, I want to go outside and take a walk or, you know, see how cold it is outside. And I think that is one of the things that is has been so impactful for me to see when I’ve been around our country and also in other countries is the difference between a setting where somebody is allowed to be speed themselves and have a normal sort of pace of their day, versus when their day is dictated to them. This is when you do this. This is when you do that. And by the way, you can’t do that. And I don’t know about you. But if I’m going to be put into a place that has nothing to do with me, and somebody locks the door and says I can’t go outside, I’m going to be at the door shaking that door to say, let me out. Right. And we see that as, you know, sort of maladaptive behavior. Well, no, that’s pretty normal, right? If I’m told that I can’t do the things that are important to me. Well, Gosh, darn it, we need to change that. Right. So that’s really what my focus has been over these past several years. With my service.

Michael Hughes 19:13
It rings so true, because you know, you’re talking about, you know, people who are have a feeling of loss of agency, a loss of control, how do we give them a feeling of agency and control back, you’re talking about, you know, a sick care system, not a health care system in this country, a sick care system that treats you as if you are sick, you have a disease, but you’ve had the privilege to go to other countries, you know, within their health care system. There’s their models where perhaps, you know, the the cognitive decline is more of a condition than a sickness and seeing these things kind of, can you tell us a little bit about what sort of, I mean, I know that there’s things in the Netherlands and we’ve heard a lot about so how do you see it? How do you see it play out there?

Dr. Emily Roberts 19:59
different medical system funding organizations. So yeah, I had the opportunity pretty early on, in my time at OSU, to travel to the Netherlands to visit the dementia village that was built and opened in 2009. It sits on four acres. And it’s basically sort of an indoor outdoor village. It’s called the dementia village. So the space has the housing in that tiny home or small house model with a living kitchen and dining room for small groups of people, 60 people, a lot of those households. But it also has the amenities of a place to go grocery shopping and get my hair done and go to a movie and sit outside by a fountain. The four acres are developed in this particular dementia village by seven different landscape architects so that each of these sort of outdoor areas has a different feeling, different flora and fauna, and a different experience. So if I’m taking a walk, I will have sort of those different kinds of experiential, you know, things that I come across through my day, which is what we do for our lives, right? I want to sit down and look at the water or watch the birds, I can do that. So that dementia village was the first of its kind to say, okay, it’s okay, if you want to do whatever you want, because you have, like you said, the agency, because you have cognitive decline does not mean it does not take away the person that you are. And you’re you have the ability to come and go as you want. So I’ve actually visited that site twice, had an opportunity, the second time to sit down with the staff and the people who had really developed the programming and found out just a little bit more about their thinking and how they were able to sort of move that needle to such a positive experience for somebody that’s living with dementia. Right. And I think the number one thing was sort of what I started with is sort of the ethics of care. What would you want, you know, if you’re sitting down with a policymaker or designer or a family member, you know, trying to determine what is best for this family member, your loved one? Well, what would you want? What would you want to see? What are the things that you would want to do with your day? Those are the kinds of questions that we ask about other people, but for some reason, we don’t ask them, the people that are living with dementia or their family members, because for some reason, the concept of dementia says okay, well, you know, risk over autonomy. You know, you can’t do that, because it’s too risky. But, you know, if you don’t have dementia, you know, if you’re 80 years old, like George Bush, you know, you can go skydiving, and it’s, Hey, go, but for some reason, if you have you been told that you’d have cognitive decline, you know, Katie bar the door, you can’t go outside. So that dementia village has brought forth many other dementia villages. I visited another one in Denmark, and another one last summer in Oslo carpet Diem, just wonderful places to be. So it doesn’t have to be a place that’s for people with dementia, it’s just a nice place to live. Right? So it’s nice housing, nice outdoor amenities, nice flow between the indoors and the outdoors, easily easy to access, and having that freedom to do what I want. I don’t think it’s so much a reminiscence thing that, you know, these things are brought back because of something that they see. It’s the feeling, right. It’s that sense of place that we don’t get when we’re in a traditional medical model. Because the sense of place when you’re in a traditional medical model is hospital, not home, or not community.

Michael Hughes 24:03
That’s the thing. You know, what goes through my mind now is that, you know, cognitive decline, arguably, is probably one of the most human of conditions, or diseases or what have you yet, the response to treatment in this country seems to be to take kind of the humanity out of it to be very clinical. And the models you’re describing, you know, really just seem to kind of maintain those human things, agency choice, the ability to enjoy a sponsor, spontaneous, like just looking at the just looking at the water and seeing whatever moves around. I mean, those just sorts of very holistic concepts just seem so yeah, at least in the history of how we’ve dealt with it, in this country seems to be so absent. And

Dr. Emily Roberts 24:56
I don’t think it’s right and wrong, but it’s just sort of the Griese of things. Yeah, yeah. People need to be safe and secure in their environment, right? How do we get there? Well, we can create an environment that’s safe and secure, but also allows for, you know, agency and autonomy. It’s, again, not rocket science when we design large scale projects every day in the built environment. So I think, taking away that, all the question marks and just saying, what would you want? If you were going to be living there for the next 20 years? What would you want? What amenities would you want to have? What would you want to be able to do? Who would you want to be able to see? And then I think we as a society, it becomes a we, right, this is a we problem was not an s&m problem.

Michael Hughes 25:48
Exactly the whole thing. But what would you want? What would you want? I mean, that’s just even for people that are not under cognitive decline, either. That may be you know, choosing or may need more help, or whatever. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s like, what is, I always like to say, you don’t take your pills, because you like how they taste? Right? What is the motivator that wants you to stay adherent and stay on your plan? This question has been in my head ever since you’ve talked with other limbs in these countries, is generally cognitive decline diagnosed earlier than in the United States. And when people move into these types of environments, do you see them moving in perhaps a little bit of an earlier stage of cognitive decline? Or are they moving into these environments when maybe they can’t?

Dr. Emily Roberts 26:33
My understanding is that there are multiple levels of care, right? Or, or you are given a certain level of diagnosis of dementia, and so a different kind of setting will be opened up for you, if you have mild cognitive decline versus if, you know, earn, you know, late stage Alzheimer’s disease? That’s a really good question. And I think it, it begs more conversation, because why not have just a general population of people that might be able to support each other, mentor each other, be helpful to each other, along with the people who are there as the care staff, I know, in the three care sites that I visited, the volunteer networks were very robust. And, you know, the family members or people from the community coming in, and helping out with some of the, you know, the clubs or taking people out for, you know, double bike ride or, you know, so there’s nothing to say, that volunteer network can’t come from within as well. And which I think probably in some of those care settings, it does, right, that the ability to volunteer and help out can be a, you know, a wonderful, gratifying thing to be able to do in my day. So, so yeah, from what I have seen, and I haven’t seen all that much, but what I saw, there are sort of levels of care. And I think that the, the dementia villages that I’ve visited were for, for people that were probably in a little bit more of late stage dementia,

Michael Hughes 28:15
for sure. And, you know, there’s so we’re learning so much about the disease, we’re learning so much about these conditions. And as you said, I mean, this is staring us in the face, because, you know, we’re gonna see probably a 10x increase in demand and all and as our society does enter this remarkable period of demographic change, where we are gonna be going much older. I love this way that you’re thinking about environmental adaptation for an aging population. We know that you’ve come up with your life framework to really kind of describe that, can you share a little bit more about your active aging for the LiFE framework model?

Dr. Emily Roberts 28:58
Sure. active aging is what was termed by the World Health Organization, I think back in the 90s, about sort of flipping the idea of sort of the negative ways of thinking about aging to the positive right. So you know, we have a choice, we have a choice, how we are going to be mindful about our progress across the lifespan. So active aging for life is something that we developed at my university with other faculty and colleagues with a life acronym being longevity, independence, fitness and engagement. And it’s a great program with four modules, those four modules for older adults, but we have created sort of an intergenerational aspect to it. We are bringing together college age students and older adults to talk about the topics of longevity, you know, the Blue Zones, lots to talk about there. You know, what are the Blue Zones doing that we could do to independence and the idea In independence is very connected to interdependence. So we want to be independent, but we may need to have, you know, extra help. So that’s that interdependence. Fitness, the idea of both physical fitness and cognitive fitness and those connections between the two, and then engagement, and how things like volunteerism or you know, lifelong learning are impactful. So, we have brought together a couple of studies, older adults, and college age students to talk about these things at the same table. And then, following our first sort of round, we decided to take some of those people who had been through the program, the two generations and take it to our local high school. So we had three generations at the table, having conversations about these things. And so actually, I just received a grant from the next 50 initiative in Denver, Colorado to make that bigger. Right. So now we are actually recruiting for life leader teams of older adults, college age students who will be trained in the active aging for life modules. And they will then take the program to six rural high schools. So I’m super excited about it, because it just hits a lot of different things at the same time, right, the IAT. I think the big thing about it is it’s an easy to remember and understand framework, right? Activating for life. It’s something that happens throughout the lifespan. So it’s not that we’re not just talking about older people. I’m not just talking about young people, again, we’re talking about us, and what are the things that we can do to be mindful in the aging process? That’s active aging, and, again, an enormous amount of literature on active aging and a lot of different programs, I think ours may be one of the few that create this sort of intergenerational peace, to, for people to have the conversations with somebody that they might not, you know, 17 year old is not normally going to be sitting down with a seven year old to talk about, you know, how they got through a hard or stressful time in their life. And I, what a wonderful opportunity. Well, first of all, I

Michael Hughes 32:11
wanted to shout out to Peter called us over at Nex 50 and his team and for funding Excellent. Opportunities like this. I love the intergenerational angle that you described. I’m not sure if you know the work of Skye Bergman. Yes, yes. Nothing was heard many times. Yeah. So we’re gonna have sky on an episode of the podcast coming up. And you know, we are at United Church homes, through our pastoral or spiritual care team actually launching some of these intergenerational initiatives. So I hope we get a chance to work with your framework and program at some point, but I love this idea that you’ll activate aging is ageless, is what you’re saying here, and just bring them on that

Dr. Emily Roberts 32:51
we’re all on the trajectory. We’re just sort of different points of it. And what can I learn from an older adult, so I also teach the class to students every spring, and so I have more time with them. And it’s just the college students, but so they go through the class, and then they develop their own module, and they take it to the high school. So it’s similar but different. But you know, one of their projects or papers that they write in my class is to see me at 70. So here, we have a, you know, 20 year old, who is asked to project, where do I want to be? How will I get there? Who are the people that are going to be in my life, it’s fiction, right? But it’s fiction based on reality of who they are, and what their belief systems and values are the people that are important to them, all of those things factor in and so they, they can either write a letter to themselves in the future, or they can write a letter from their future back to their 20 year old self and say, you know, you know, we did a great job. So I think it just, it starts to get some wheels turning about, oh, okay, so I have control over this, right, my life doesn’t just happen to me, there are things that I can do along the way that will impact my might, you know, do I get to that beautiful age of 70 and have a sense of self worth, and wisdom.

Michael Hughes 34:19
And importantly, and we’ve talked about this on the show, many times, it sort of helps to kill the ages, tropes that we find here in Western society, whether it’s going to be just a birthday card that basically says well, you’re over the hill now, you know, to to any number of other things you see and then it comparatively and especially as you see these things as you travel, other countries where especially non western countries where we see the relationship with aging work towards wisdom towards growth, towards a sort of societal benefit, a net benefit for having older people around, like just break.

Dr. Emily Roberts 34:57
Loose that you know, I don’t get it, we just for some reason, I mean, I’m overstating that, because you know, there are wonderful, close knit families. But when I do go to some care centers where the person has been basically left there, you know, there’s no one there that’s interacting with them. It’s like, how does that happen?

Michael Hughes 35:24
People that may come to this country, it may work in those settings may also think, how does this happen? So yeah, I just, you know, you’re doing amazing work by breaking down these barriers. And I’ve been, I would, I mean, I’ve got five more podcasts, I’d love to talk with you, Emily. But we’re gonna do that, we need to move on to the, you know, our we always ask our guests three questions about their experience with aging. I think it’s just I was reflecting on it because we’ve been lucky enough to have guests in their 20s, we’ve been lucky to have guests in their 70s. And when people answer these questions it is always interesting to see through the lines with the commonalities in the answers, and also where people may be in their lives at that moment. So hope that you’re okay with us asking you that of you. But before we do that, where can people find your work? What would you like to share? Find out more about your work? Where can people find you?

Dr. Emily Roberts 36:14
Well, I’ve been working on a project with students called the dementia friendly city center, and there’s a fair amount of literature. And I’m on the project, and there was an article in The New York Times that talked about it and on National Public Radio. So I think if you just know, if you’re interested in dementia, and dementia care and new models of care, the dementia friendly city center will probably pop up. And we’re looking at adaptive reuse of very large commercial spaces that are closed. So what does that look like? Well, as you’ll see if you look at it, but in the book that you held up, there’s a chapter about the idea of an 800,000 square foot, closed mall and what you know creativity can do and thinking about ways where we can create normalcy, we’re not talking about putting housing in a mall, we’re talking about opening up the mall for places amenities and programs and services and plugging in housing, sort of at a different level, levels of care need and those kinds of things. And so it’s something that’s very exciting and keeps me going. And we could have a whole nother podcast on we

Michael Hughes 37:27
could and there’s a lot of malls out there that could use it. I just think it’s terrific. But into our three questions. Oh, and by the way, the book redesigned the continuum of care for older adults, the future of long term care settings, published by Springer, please check it out, pick it up. It’s got some great content. And so Emily, question number one about aging. Okay. When you think about how you yourself have age, what do you think has changed about you or grown with you? Do you really like her? That is

Dr. Emily Roberts 37:55
very good question. I think, and I don’t think it’s something that came to me just off the top of my head, it’s sort of being in the academic world, working with young adults, and talking to them, you know, in my classes about how much control we have over our lives. So I think that’s something that I really think about a lot is, you know, talking about the journey and putting together the jigsaw puzzle of life, and we, I feel like we have the capacity to form that puzzle the way however we want, we get to make the pieces, right, we get to determine what’s important to us, and how we fit those things together. And so I think that sort of flexibility and saying, Okay, well, this isn’t working, I’m going to try this over here and sort of push things together that way to be the person that you want to be, you know, at 60, something years old, which I am, that’s a beautiful thing, and not feel like you have to be sort of pushed in a certain direction, but letting life inspire you, and allow you to make the changes that you need to change to be. And it’s really happening but fulfilling.

Michael Hughes 39:10
That’s terrific. And I’m so glad that you’re able to share that with your students. That’s awesome. But now on to question number two, which is what has surprised you the most about you, as you’ve age,

Dr. Emily Roberts 39:25
I can still get up in the morning and do my work. I know, you know, my mom lived well into her 80s and was just vital and, you know, cooking for people that needed extra help and those kinds of things. And on the flip side, my father died very early at 56. So I take nothing for granted.

Michael Hughes 39:45
Yes. And it’s interesting that sort of flows into our third question here is that it’s really about those inspirations. Is there someone that you’ve met, or somebody who has been in your life that has really set a good example for you and aging like somebody We’d like to say aging with abundance that United Church Sean’s, but maybe somebody that’s inspired you to age with abundance? Well,

Dr. Emily Roberts 40:06
I would actually have to go back to my dad. Because, you know, I was 20 when he passed away, and I now know more about him as I’ve, as I’ve aged and saw what he’s missed. He was 56. And he was, he was a scientist. And he, as I was growing up, a teenager would try to talk to me about his passions and the things that he was working on. And he was telling them describing this scientific stuff about, you know, putting memory into these really syn chips of silicon, you know, and I’m like, what, you know, what are you talking about that I want to go to the beach with my friends, you know, I wasn’t connecting with what he was telling me. Well, he was a, you know, a, you know, software engineer, he was developing the first silicon chips. And he died in 1980. And he had just gotten his first handheld pocket calculator, the advent of the personal computer, the big, you know, change over had not happened yet. And when I think about that, about how important his work was, through his life, his somewhat short life, but important that he never saw the fruition of his work, but it was still important work. And so that, to me, is my inspiration for the aging process. There’s no reason to just, you know, stop and shut down because I’ve reached a certain age. Whether or not I see any of these things can come to fruition that I’m passionate about. They’re still important.

Michael Hughes 41:36
I love that. And I’ve said this on other shows, I’m inspired by my neighbor, Jenny, who’s in her mid 80s. And she’s got a bumper sticker on her car and says, curiosity never retires. And I really hope that that will be my inspiration for aging. Absolutely.

Dr. Emily Roberts 41:52
Yeah, we’re surrounded by the next corner.

Michael Hughes 41:54
I just love it. I just love it. Well, Emily, thank you so much for spending the time with us to educate our listeners. We love having you guys a guest on the show. Once again, you know, learning please google dementia friendly city centers, IDF adaptively reuse Emily and her colleagues, her team are working on that. And it’s going to be just sort of amazing learning. Again, redesigning the continuum of care for older adults, the future of long term care settings is Emily’s got some great content in that as well editing, issued by Springer. But most importantly, thank you to our listeners. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode of The Art of aging, which is part of the abundant agent podcast series from United Church homes. And we want to hear from you. I mean, what’s been your experience with supporting the care of somebody with cognitive decline? What, how do you feel about this idea of advocacy of just the ethics of care that surrounds somebody being personal themselves? What would you like to see in future episodes? Just please, you know, get with us at abundant agent We’re also on YouTube under United Church homes, so please subscribe there. And please find out more about the Ruth Frost Parker Center through our website, Emily, again, thank you for being a great guest on the show.

Dr. Emily Roberts 43:15
Thanks so much. I really enjoyed it. Yeah.

Michael Hughes 43:17
And to our listeners. We hope that you’ll tune in again for another great guest. Bye for now.