Master of Arts in Gerontology & Master of Aging Services Management



Adapting Local Communities to Increase Age-Friendliness

Is your community age-friendly? What are some easy, practical changes, that can be made to increase age-friendliness in the places in which you live and work? What are some ideal changes that can be made, and for which you can advocate? What does it mean to be an aging advocate in your local community, and where do you fit in?

In this webinar, Caroline Cicero, Ph.D., M.S.W., M.P.L., addresses these questions and her research on adapting communities to become more age-friendly, and Enrollment Advisor Jami O’Connell provide an overview of the MAG and MASM programs.

Learn more about online gerontology degrees at the USC Davis School of Gerontology.


Jami O’Connell: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today for today’s webinar hosted by the online programs in gerontology at the University of Southern California. My name is Jami O’Connell and I will be your moderator for this event. I am a graduate enrollment advisor for the online graduate programs in gerontology. I’m pleased to see so many familiar names on the attendee list for today. I know I’ve emailed a lot of you, and spoken with some of you as well, so it’s nice to see everyone gathered together for this exciting event. Glad to have you all here today.

Before we get started, I just have a few notes about what you can expect for today’s webinar. You are in audio only mode, which means you can hear us but we cannot hear you. During the webinar, please feel free to type in your questions into the question and answer box throughout the presentation as you think of them. We’ve reserved time at the end of the presentation to address all of your questions. We hope that you find this session to be informative and helpful.

I am now pleased to introduce our presenter today, Dr. Caroline Cicero, who is an instructional assistant professor in the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Dr. Cicero earned her Master of Social Work, Master of Planning, and PhD in Gerontology from USC in Los Angeles where she’s lived for the past 25 years. Her professional work includes senior care management, affordable housing development, fall prevention, environmental design, and policy planning. Making local communities better places to grow is one of her primary interests in addition to educating her students, policymakers, and the public about older people and the aging process. It is my pleasure to now turn this over to Dr. Cicero. I appreciate everyone joining us today. Sit back and relax. I hope everyone has a lot of questions.

All right, thanks. Thank you, Jami. As Jami said, I have two masters and PhD all from USC. I have an undergrad degree in sociology and anthropology. What does that all mean? It means I’m a social scientist. Some professors at USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology are biologists or experts in one specific area of again such as the brain, or elder abuse, molecular aging, death and dying. I have training and professional experience in several areas within social science that all work together and bring me to one of my specializations which is, as Jami mentioned, helping figure out now how cities and local communities can meet the needs of their aging population.

How did I get into this? I started masters degrees in urban planning and social work originally because I wanted to look at affordable housing and social services. I didn’t know anything about the field of aging. My only experience really was with my two grandmothers, and I did like to go visit them at their two retirement communities but I never knew why. Anyway, once I was introduced to aging, I got hooked. I was intrigued by older people’s life stories. I worked with European immigrants who were Holocaust survivors and they had lost all their loved ones. I worked with American-born Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during World War II and lost all their property. I once had thought I would be an architect, if you had asked me maybe in high school or the beginning of college. Within aging, I wanted to figure out how to make a house work best for an older person. Exploring relationships between parents and adult children interested me as well as working with caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients.

After I got really hooked into the field and interested in knowing more about it, I decided to come to the Leonard Davis School and get my PhD in gerontology. Some of you may have had some similar backgrounds to the things I have done. Maybe you’ve been working in the older adult service industry already. Hopefully what you hear about today will help you decide if you want to pursue further studies. I’ve been pleased to be back at USC teaching for a couple years now. I taught for five years at a different institution. I’m so pleased to be back at USC Gerontology.

What we’re going to talk about today, or what I’m going to talk about today, is age-friendly communities including changes you can make, you and others can make to increase age-friendliness, ideal changes for which you could advocate but might take some convincing of people in your community, and also becoming an aging advocate in your local community. Then Jami’s going to tell you more about the online programs, and you can ask questions at the end.

The first question I want you to consider is whether you think your community is age-friendly. What does that mean, is the real question. The World Health Organization started the age-friendly movement in 2006. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it at all–Perhaps you are. It’s only about 10 years old. AARP here in the US signed on to help get the movement going in American cities. Portland and New York City were some of the first early adopters. In recent years we’ve had more and more cities signing on each month. Los Angeles where I live recently committed to becoming an age-friendly city, and so they’re doing a two-year examination process of what that means.

What constitutes an age-friendly city? There’s eight domains of age-friendliness. You can look them up on the AARP website or the World Health Organization. Basically, they include outdoor spaces and buildings, are they pedestrian friendly? Are there safe crosswalks? Are the surfaces safe and well-maintained? Transportation, is it accessible, affordable, and convenient? Housing, is it also accessible, affordable, space, and allows for aging in place, or does it allow people to relocate if they feel that’s what best suits their need and if they can make that change? Also social participation, events that allow for older people to participate in an intergenerational setting especially. Respect and social inclusion, are older people consulted and are their opinions valued?

Civic participation and employment opportunities, what kinds of volunteer opportunities are available for older people? What kind of job opportunities as people age either in their current job or an encore career? What kind of intergenerational activities, again, fall within that domain? Communication and information, does your community publish things in elder friendly font? Do they make programming, and literature, and information accessible? What about computer access, not just at a senior center but anywhere? Are elderly people able to access the internet? Are they able to get their information? Is there training for them to use a smartphone or a tablet, things like that? Then finally the eighth domain would be community support and health services. Are professionals, even perhaps yourself, working in the community able to access the needs of older adults? Do you consider the needs of older and disabled people?

Those are some of the domains on which we assess whether a community is elder-friendly. Cities around the world have been working on this for a number of years, as I mentioned, through the World Health Organization. In the US.., cities are committing now to look at those issues.

Consider in your own workplace, or your own home, or the home of older people who are in your family, what are some easy practical changes that can be made that would increase age-friendliness? Here is a picture of, I presume, a husband and wife walking down the stairs in an outdoor setting. I took this in Chicago as I was a passenger driving by in the car. If it weren’t for these banisters and handrails, this gentleman would probably have a lot of trouble coming down the stairs. I actually have a series of pictures that shows the process.

Practical things, putting in a grab bar such as that seems like an obvious thing. Outdoor spaces, whether we make them amenable and adaptable for older people. Maintenance of sidewalks. As Jami mentioned, I studied fall prevention and falls that happen outside on streets and sidewalks, not just whether there’s potholes or broken sidewalks, but debris. Seasonally you might get leaves, and magnolia buds, snow of course. Anyway, different things like that are easy for you to advocate in your community for changes to be made but also easy to make changes around your own home or the place in which you work.

As far as housing, home modifications. Don’t know if you’re familiar with those processes. You may be. Installing grab bars and other things to make the bathroom more accessible of course can make a home more elder-friendly. Also things like removing rugs and increasing lighting. Often I’m surprised when I walk into assisted living communities even where the lighting is terrible, the colors schemes are terrible. It seems like older people or people with failing eyesight or different cognitive changes haven’t even been considered, even in some assisted living or nursing homes or retirement communities.

Also social participation. As I mentioned earlier, intergenerational events are really important, not just events that are focused on older people but events that include older people whether that’s in a religious congregation or in a community event even with schools working with older people. Making volunteer opportunities for older people to be involved in intergenerational settings. These are simple things that can be promoted or suggested in the community. Encouraging a church, for example, to print their bulletin in large font seems obvious. Many churches or religious communities now have screens with fonts up there. There’s just certain things. I’m always surprised when I go into a place and now that I’m over 40, I can’t read the font, let alone someone who might be 80 and having other visual issues.

Also sometimes service providers just haven’t thought of some practical changes that could increase age-friendliness or they just don’t realize. Thinking of things like that, talking to emergency response teams, police, etc., can really make a difference in whether a community is elder-friendly.

Some ideal changes, things that aren’t as easy to suggest. Here’s a picture I took in Cuba. This woman was walking down the sidewalk and started calling out to this man. I don’t think they knew each other. She was basically saying, “Could you please help me? Could you help me get around this corner because look at these curbs that are falling apart.” Ideal changes would include fixing streets and sidewalks. That’s not all as easily done as imagined because of funding issues, and your community might say they have a waiting list to fix and sidewalks. I believe Los Angeles where I live has said that they have an 80-year waiting list to fix broken sidewalks. Some community groups are coming up with plans for how we can shorten that 80-year waiting list, or have property owners work with the city, etc.

Also increasing parks and walking spaces would be ideal changes you can suggest, making places where older people can exercise safely and enjoy the outdoors. Portland is really great at that, which is one reason why it’s been one of the first adopters of the age-friendly city concept. Housing, promoting more affordable housing, not just Section 8 202 buildings for seniors but multi-family housing where seniors can live that’s affordable and accessible. Money is always difficult to come by, but non-profits and governments can work together along with private corporations.

Also not just the development of housing but thinking ideally about zoning options that can help seniors to age in place whether that includes being able to have a second unit like a guesthouse, or sometimes called a granny flat or a guest cottage, behind the single family home. There’s many cities throughout the country who have started making these extra units available either for an older person to live in, or for them to hire someone to live behind them, or to have a family member live there, or a caretaker. Many people do it without being sanctioned or legitimized by a city, but encouraging cities to take steps to make zoning changes such as that legal are some great changes you can advocate for. It won’t happen overnight, but these are ideal concepts.

Also transportation, buses and trains offer services to the hubs of commercial activity where people can access all kinds of services. In urban planning we have a concept called smart growth, which is also an age-friendly city. I’ve been working over the years to try to convince planners that smart growth is good for everybody and is good for older people. It’s not mutually exclusive. Fewer car dependent suburban type developments and more development that includes mixed use of businesses, almost a model of a village in the old sense. This is why New York would score better on this than Los Angeles where you have community services, service providers, commercial things available to many people in a more dense area instead of having to be car-friendly. What is going to happen when our baby boomers who are now aging past 70 are 80 85, 90, and they are unable to drive? Those are going to be some questions we really need to consider.

Other ideal changes would be communications, internet access for all, getting teenagers to train older people how to use technology. AARP has a program called Mentor Up where they’re doing just that. Encouraging communities to think big and get everyone online, and not just because older people want to send email but because they can keep in touch with their friends and relatives. They can order food to be delivered. They have such a better access to the things that we all use as internet users that we don’t even think about.

Finally, what does it mean to be an aging advocate in your local community? One of the classes I’m teaching right now is Social Policy and Aging. I told the students yesterday that if they get nothing else out of the course, I hope they will but if they get nothing else out of the course, I hope that they will learn to be an advocate on behalf of older people. I encourage students to tweet, to send messages, to share stories, to put up videos on social media, but I also encourage them to go to public meetings, to speak out to encourage communities that an age-friendly neighborhood is better for everyone.

Also helping to organize older adults or encouraging them to organize themselves. That may be something you’re already doing in your career. Also meeting with local officials in some of the departments I’ve just mentioned, transportation, urban planning, housing. Meet with them. Meet with church or synagogue leaders and encourage them to adapt an elder-friendly approach in everything they do.

Also whether you’re in Los Angeles or in a small suburb somewhere, you can write articles for newspapers, small newspapers are always looking for content, to write about how maybe a law or a municipal code impacts older people. Use an example of an older person in your community. That’s so important. I have my students look at things like garbage day and whether older people can get their garbage can out to the curb, or snow days and the requirements that cities have of clearing their sidewalks, how does that affect older people, different things like that.

I encourage people most of all to confront ageism when we see it and really hold people accountable and say, you know what? That view really doesn’t consider the human rights and needs of older people. I suggest to people who may be expressing ageist tendencies that we’re all aging. That’s something that universally applies to everyone.

Those are some of the things you can think about in regards to age-friendly communities. I teach classes in social policy and aging, like I said. I also teach Intro to Gerontology which has many students who are in the MAG and MASM programs. In that we cover pretty much every subject matter that then you would go on to study in further detail throughout the program. I also teach a class on housing and community design where we go out on field trips to different locations, and also women and aging, which I’m teaching to undergrads right now. That’s a lot of fun because you can cover any topic. I tell them we start at age 35, which they’re all shocked about, and go up to 105.

That’s all I have for now. I know that Jami wanted to share with you more about the program, so I’ll turn it over to her.

Jami O’Connell: Thank you so much. We really appreciate your presentation. Very enlightening. We’ve got some good questions in the queue already that we’ll address at the end of the presentation. I’ll just take a few moments just to give you a little background about the school itself, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Firstly, USC is ranked in the top 25 of all universities in the US and is known internationally as the leader in research. The USC Davis School of Gerontology is doing a lot of research. It’s a private research university so you have a lot of professors researching in the field. There’s a lot of wonderful initiatives going on at USC, certainly the Andrus Gerontology Center, Alzheimer’s research, aging in place, as well as digital aging, just to mention a few.

Also the Davis School is the oldest and largest school of gerontology in the world. A lot of students I’ve spoken with, I also remind you that it’s the only school of aging. You might have other gerontology programs that are in association with a nursing program, social work, or public policy. Here the professors are all researching in their field and it’s total focus on aging and gerontology. We have obviously a world-class faculty that represent many disciplines. I also encourage you to visit the website and you can look at all of the professors and get a background of what their interests are, what their research is, what they teach, and where they’ve gone to school as well. A lot of scientific and professional gerontology courses are offered at the Davis School of Gerontology. We also have a very powerful, strong alumni network with some top level administrators and some very prestigious agencies and companies across the country. We have a strong career services. USC as a whole does have a very strong career services department that will help students network as well as work with your for job placement.

With that being said, let me talk a little bit about the two programs within the gerontology program. A lot of times when you’ve sent an inquiry for information on the program, you’ll get a brochure with the Master of Arts in Gerontology, which is MAG, as well as the Master of Aging Services Management. The big difference that I like to point out is that there’s one more required class in the Aging Services Management. All the classes in the Master of Arts in Gerontology area also offered in the Aging Services Management. You’ll just find a lot more courses that you can choose from in MASM that can really help you customize your degree. If you are interested in classes that address end of life care, design and environment which focuses on housing, and aging in place, and all of the various subject matter that goes with housing, legal matters, as well as consumer decision making, you’ll only find that with the Aging Services Management degree.

Basically what I find when talking with students with the Master of Arts in Gerontology, it’s mostly designed for professionals who are currently working in an organization serving older adults. It might be a doctor that specializes in geriatrics, might be an attorney working in elder care, or a paralegal, maybe a financial planner, or even architects that want to stay in their field but would just want that formal education and training in gerontology. It will really help those folks to better understand their own aging process, certainly accommodate the special needs and issues of their older clients or patients, and really just overall potentially enhance their careers.

Moving to the Aging Services Management degree that I spoke a little bit about earlier with the MAG slide is that you’re looking at providing students with the knowledge and skills to really successfully offer products and services and programs to better serve the aging adults. Bottom line is that there are just more courses that are offered in the Aging Services Management so you can really customize what you want to focus on.

The background of the students that are in the program … I’ve been working on the program close to two years now. It ranges from folks having backgrounds in other fields such as maybe history, criminal justice, maybe industries that don’t necessarily intersect with gerontology but have experience as being caregivers and really want to make a difference in the industry. We also have those professionals that are working in the industry and want to learn more about gerontology. We have those that are brand new to gerontology that certainly want to make a difference looking at the MASM degree, certainly helping those in industries ranging anywhere from residential care facilities, the home healthcare options, assisted living and retirement communities.

As you can see with the MASM coursework, you’re looking at some of the core courses. You’re actually required to take three courses from an offering of five. Then when you get into the electives, you’re choosing five courses from a list of about 18. For those of you that may already have the brochure, once the webinar is over I’m going to email everyone that has registered, whether you’re actually in attendance or not in attendance. I’m going to email everyone the brochure as well as the course catalog so you can see in depth descriptions of each course that’s offered in the program. Same with the MAG. There’s just fewer classes to choose from and a fewer selection, again, just to hit that home that the MASM just gives you more opportunities in terms of course offerings.

Just a brief overview. Again, I’ll email this to everybody, the requirements, just filling out and completing the online graduate application when we look at background in terms of education, certainly an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, and looking at a cumulative GPA of 3.0. Again, if you have a GPA that’s very close to 3.0 that’s under, I can certainly speak to you on a case by case basis because we have had individuals accepted into the program with certain exceptions. It’s something that we can talk about. Looking at also being sure to get all the transcripts from all the colleges and universities that you’ve attended, current resume, letters of recommendation as well as the evaluation forms on the application site. It’s very intuitive and very easy to navigate. It will ask you to identify your recommenders, then the system will communicate to them and let them know exactly what is needed. It’s pretty straightforward and simple to use.

Also I send out talking points on the statement of purpose. It’s basically your reasoning why you’re pursuing the degree, why you’ve chosen USC, and what you hope to contribute to the field.

At this point what we’d like to do, we’ve had some questions come through. We certainly would like to address that. As a reminder, if you do have questions, just please type them into the Q&A box on the lower right hand side. If for some reason we don’t address your question in this forum, it’s because we’ve either run out of time or we need to further investigate the answer. We can certainly get back to you with an answer.

Let’s see. Here we have a great question. I think this I’m going to direct to Caroline. How can we get legislators on board with adapting universal design practices when we are so long overdue for Congress to update the OAA, the Older Americans Act?

Caroline Cicero: That’s a great question. With the Older Americans Act re-authorization, that’s unfortunately part of the federal gridlock that we experience in Washington DC. Even though local service providers, senior centers, and area agencies on aging are providing fantastic work, the funding mechanism hailing from Washington DC is, well what should we say, frustrating, as we all know. We’re in a political season right now that can be very frustrating. Asking legislators to get on design with universal design and adopting age-friendly communities is easier because it’s a local issue. It’s a local, by local I mean city or even county, issue. It could also be a state issue. Some states are getting behind universal design.

HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal program, may refer to universal design or accessible HUD housing, but I do not expect the federal lawmakers to be putting a requirement of universal design coming from Washington DC. That’s a question of federalism which is the division of power between our federal, state, and local governments and how that works. I find that local governments are actually a lot more amenable to meeting the needs of their constituents and their city populations than are representatives or senators, maybe. That’s what we’re talking about here is more of working with local legislators, city council, county supervisors, etc. Not even just the legislators but the employees in different departments and getting them to understand the need for these programs and design ideas. Hope that answered the question.

Jami O’Connell: Wonderful, thank you. We have another question on the queue asking about when does the next semester start, and do I have time to apply for the program?

There are three semesters within the school year. The upcoming term, we call it our spring term, starts January 9, so there’s plenty of time. We’re very flexible with deadlines. We’re looking at a deadline late November. Early December is fine. Typically what takes the longest is reaching out, identifying your recommenders, letting them know the process of what they have to do, as well as ordering all your transcripts. I work very closely one on one with students to ensure that we get everything in a timely fashion. It can take as long as four weeks to get everything wrapped up, but typically anywhere between two to two and a half weeks. Once everything is in and submitted, it then takes the committee anywhere from three days to at the most two weeks to come back with a decision. Certainly I’ll also, like I mentioned before, with the admissions requirements and anything about the start dates and deadlines, I will certainly make sure everyone gets an email with that information.

Here’s a great question. I work with Educare which deals with the aging LGBT community here in Dallas, Texas, and I would like to hear your thoughts about LGBT people in the aging community. Caroline, if you can address that question, we’d appreciate it.

Caroline Cicero: I don’t know exactly what she wants to know, but there’s been a lot more recognition in recent years of research that should look into the LGBT community. Thus far the research has been rather limited. It’s hard to find data on how many LGBT elders there are, one, because LGBT elders may have been reluctant in the past to come out or identify themselves or mark on a, not a census, but mark on a survey or somewhere. Since same sex marriage has only been legal across the country for one year, census, like I mentioned, wouldn’t have counted LGBT elders in the past who are living in a marriage relationship.

As I talk about with my classes, the needs of LGBT elders are very important not just as a recognition but also for things such as visitation in the hospital, Social Security benefits, healthcare benefits, etc. I think sometimes some of my students who haven’t really thought about why LGBT issues are important specifically to aging, they haven’t thought about it in the past, they come to see pretty quickly that issues of the things I just mentioned including wills and estate planning, things like that, property owning, all are very important to older people as they age in personal relationships with each other.

There are areas that are more LGBT and aging-friendly than others. There’s cities in Los Angeles County and elsewhere who recognize more readily the needs of LGBT elders. I think it’s important not to overlook people who live in places that are not as friendly. Stereotypically, I wouldn’t say people would think Dallas would be an LGBT-friendly place for an older adult to live. There’s lots of education we all need to give each other, both from the LGBT community and people working within it, to researchers, and to service providers, and lawmakers, and vice versa. I think it’s only beginning. We’re only beginning to see the abundance of knowledge that’s going to be shared and resources that are going to be improving for the community.

Jami O’Connell:No, but that’s wonderful. Really appreciate you addressing that. That comes up a lot also when I’m working with students as well. If another question comes up during this event, I’ll certainly let you know.

Actually, we have another great question. This is also addressed to Caroline. How do you communicate with your students? Do you find that you are able to form relationships with the online students as you do with on campus students?

Caroline Cicero: Sure. Most of my classes are blended meaning I speak in the classroom on USC’s main campus. USC has a lot of different campuses, by the way. Anyway, I’m standing in a classroom speaking to anywhere from 10 to 30, sometimes 50 students. At the same time, the lecture is being recorded. Some online students watch it live and call in. We have a phone number where if someone calls, it just starts ringing right in the classroom and I couldn’t even stop it if I wanted to. An online student may ask a question live. We also usually have a Facebook feed where students, it’s not required, but those who are on Facebook ask questions. We use Blackboard. If you don’t know what it is, you’ll learn because it’s where you’ll do your online program through.

We’re also starting some new video conferencing among online students and trying to get online students into groups of four or six people to meet and be able to discuss live or via their screen with people. Online students participate also, whether they’ve watched the lecture live or watch it later because they might be working obviously, they post discussion responses because we post discussion questions, and then people respond to each other. I always give everybody my cell phone number, and students text and call me at all hours. I usually turn it off when I’m sleeping obviously. I’m very good at responding to inquiries. People send emails a lot. We’re always open for phone calls.

Basically I’ve just given you many different ways where we keep in touch with online students. Some students I get to know really well. They come to see me when they’re on campus. They make appointments to video conference with me. I write them recommendations or help them change their job prospects, etc. Other students, honestly, I don’t get to know as well. It really has to do with the student and what they want to get out of it. I can chase people down, but if they’re not responsive, they’re adults. I can’t exactly force them to come talk to my office. It’s really what people want to get out of it.

I’ve found, in fact, some of the online students I know almost better than some of the residential students. I’ve found in some cases some of the online students are older and have more experience in the field where some of our residential students might be younger and are just a couple years out of college. The online students really provide a great resource for educating the other online students and the residential students on information about the field and what they’re doing. We try to have the online and residential students communicating online and in person when available. Hope that answered the question.

Jami O’Connell: Yes, perfect. Thank you so much. We have another question I can address with regard to professional experience. How much professional experience do you need to be admitted into the program? How much is typical for students in the program?

That’s a good question because there is no requirement for professional experience to be in the program. One of the reasons why is that we have students from all different backgrounds and all different stages of their life. I’ve worked with students probably as young as 20, 21, as old as 70, 71. You have people reinventing themselves, people looking to a second career that have worked in industries unrelated to gerontology, and as I mentioned earlier, perhaps a caregiver, or just as they are aging themselves, they see a huge need for leaders and advocates in this industry. Certainly, yeah, there’s absolutely no professional experience needed to be admitted into the program. It’s a wonderful question.

We’ve had some really great questions. For those of you that still have questions, I think we’ve answered most of them either by texting you directly or through the webinar. As you take the time to review the information, if there’s any other questions that we haven’t answered, as I mentioned earlier, I will be emailing everybody with follow up email which will also have a link to my calendar so you can certainly set up a one on one appointment with me and I’d be more than happy to talk with you.

Caroline, we’d really like to thank you for your time today and really for sharing this really fascinating information. It’s so important that people are aware of what age-friendly communities are all about. Also, thank you to all of you on this webinar for joining us today. As I mentioned, please reach out to me if you have any questions. My contact information is listed on the slide, the final slide that we’re going to post. That will have my information. Again, I’ll also send it to everyone as well, so you’ll have my email address, the link to my calendar, phone number with extension.

Again, this presentation has been recorded and we will email it to you shortly with the link to the recording as well as follow up information. That concludes today’s webinar. Again, thank you so much for your time. Have a great day and a wonderful rest of your week.

Caroline: Thank you.

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