Positive or healthy aging is achievable by everyone as we work to make better choices in the near term to improve our lives in the long term. Positive aging is adopting a constructive view of aging as a healthy, regular part of life.
A Yale University study looked at the long-term health consequences of ageism on seniors. Researchers determined age discrimination can potentially shorten seniors’ lives. Among the study group, seniors with more positive views about the aging process lived 7.5 years longer than people who perceived aging negatively. Additional studies indicated positive thinking could result in an 11-15% longer life span and could increase the likelihood of living to age 85 or beyond.
As the older adult population in Southwest Florida increases, it accentuates the need for a regional hub to connect and convene organizations and individuals focused on addressing this age group’s changing and increasing needs, defined as individuals 65 and older. In the five-county Southwest Florida area Florida Gulf Coast University serves, 30.1% of the population is 65 and older. This percentage exceeds state and national averages, except Hendry County when considered individually. Further, population projections for Southwest Florida through 2050 predict the highest growth in the 65 and older group, with the most significant increase in the 85 and older category. The growth in these three age ranges accounts for 38% of Southwest Florida’s expected population growth through 2050.
Older adults face many of the same issues found among other population segments in Southwest Florida – food insecurity, income inequality, affordable housing or homelessness. They also face unique challenges such as social isolation, higher rates of complex medical issues and chronic disease. The increasing older-adult population, combined with the general desire to age in place and the existing health care system fiscal realities, underlines the need for care in settings other than hospitals and long-term care facilities.
To undertake the current challenges of meeting the needs of older adults, collaboration of researchers, educators and practitioners is essential.
With this focus, FGCU’s Marieb College of Health & Human Services launched the Shady Rest Institute on Positive Aging. The institute was founded in August 2022 through a generous $5 million gift from the Shady Rest Foundation. This followed a $4.1 million gift to FGCU to support students seeking careers working with older adults in nursing, physician assistant studies, physical therapy, occupational therapy or social work.
The Shady Rest Institute on Positive Aging serves as a regional hub to connect FGCU faculty, staff and students from across academic disciplines with community organizations in a unified purpose of supporting the older-adult community in Southwest Florida through education, service, research and advocacy. The institute focuses on issues facing the older-adult population through four strategic areas of emphasis:
Over the past few years, we have been able to highlight the needs of older adults through the conduct of surveys, focus groups and community needs assessments. One of the most discouraging findings: Older adults describe themselves as a “forgotten population” in Southwest Florida. The Shady Rest Institute on Positive Aging will serve as a leader in the development of practical approaches to address the needs of older adults. Together, we’ll help them thrive with dignity as fully seen participants in their communities.
Thomas P. Felke, Ph.D., is the Shady Rest Institute on Positive Aging executive director in the Marieb College of Health & Human Services at Florida Gulf Coast University.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: FGCU institute to promote positive aging