Dr. Roger Landry, preventive medicine physician, author, and cofounder of Masterpiece Living, will present the opening keynote, “The Legacy of Cave Dwelling: What’s Next?” at 8:30 on Monday, Feb. 27, during the Environments for Aging Expo & Conference at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. In this Q+A with Environments for Aging, he shares a preview of his presentation:

Environments for Aging: You describe your book “Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging” as a roadmap to aging in a better way. What are common misconceptions people have about aging?

Dr. Roger Landry: The most notorious one is that we have little control over how we age, that we are victims of our genes. The research data is clear: Lifestyle determines up to 70 percent of how we age. In fact, recent work in genetics has spawned a whole new field of epigenetics, which has demonstrated that our lifestyle can put some of our potentially troublesome genes to sleep. Another common misconception is that we can’t make significant lifestyle change. If we use a small-change approach, we can, in fact, always succeed in whatever change we want to effect … it just may take a little longer. Finally, there’s a lack of understanding of how significantly some lifestyles can affect our health and aging experience. For instance, a sedentary lifestyle, which more and more of us live today, is associated with risks as high as smoking. Social isolation is extremely destructive, leaving us at high risk for chronic disease, and living without meaning and purpose is also associated with very high risk for decline.

What are the characteristics of an environment that promotes healthy aging?

Dr. Roger Landry: Well, first of all, it cannot be cookie cutter or institutional. The new older adult wants the feeling of a customized environment and a community that offers choice and variety, and generates a feeling of pride. They want places that foster physical movement, such as walking, yoga, swimming, and strength training, but above all, moving versus sitting. They want a community that nurtures learning and new experiences, and will—by design—bring people together for a variety of purposes and will stimulate engagement with all generations and with the larger community. A lifestyle that’s all about continuing to grow is one that’s associated with a better aging experience and one that’s more likely to be where we live long and die short.

You’ve gone beyond senior living communities to also challenge cities, towns, and organizations to become places that maximize well-being and allow older adults to continue to grow and learn. Why is that important?

Dr. Roger Landry: In just 15-20 years, one in four Americans will be over the age of 65. The 80-plus and even the 100-plus are rapidly growing segments of our population. Most Americans will choose, oftentimes because of limited options, to remain in their homes. Therefore, our towns and cities are already being challenged to accommodate this demographic shift. How do we provide not only living arrangements but services that offer them what they want: experience and the opportunity to grow and be all they can be for as long as possible? With healthcare costs for older adults continuing to rise, it’s critical, for quality of life and for the soundness of our economy, to provide opportunities to live a lifestyle that’s been shown to reduce the occurrence of chronic disease. It’s a challenge for each community to assess what is currently available, the barriers that exist, and the best practices already proven to address this lifestyle transition.

What’s one takeaway you want EFA Expo attendees to go home with from your presentation?

Dr. Roger Landry: It’s no longer a matter of getting ready for the next generation of older adults. It’s happening now and the senior living communities that will thrive will be those that recognize the immediacy of the requirement and begin creating environments that empower and enable continued growth. These communities will be more like universities, fostering and expecting growth in all aspects of life. Yes, they’ll continue to be places that can support the care needs of seniors, but they will be defined more by what they prevent than what they accommodate, more by growth than by maintenance, more by adventure than by comfort.

P.K. Beville, Founder and CEO, Second Wind Dreams will present “The Dementia Code,” at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Here’s a Q+A with Beville:

Environments for Aging: You were a clinician specializing in geriatrics before founding Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the perception of aging. What will your message be to EFA Expo attendees? 

P.K. Beville: Most people view the environment in which seniors live in a passive way. Of course we want it to be visually appealing, but the environment—especially for those living with dementia—can directly impact motivation, involvement, and interaction. I’ll talk about how we’ve begun learning that the best environment for seniors with dementia can be gleaned from observing their behavior and walking in their shoes.

You’ve focused on rethinking what type of training is necessary to change caregivers’ behavior toward residents with dementia. What was your goal? 

P.K. Beville: The old training methods of lecture, reading, or role-playing weren’t working to increase caregivers’ understanding of the plight of dementia. My goal was to show a different way of training that immersed them in the world of dementia, thereby increasing the likelihood that they would better identify with dementia residents, leading to better care.

One outcome of your work was the Virtual Dementia Tour, an eight-minute experience that exposes a person to some of the physical and mental challenges that those with dementia face. What surprises people the most when they take the tour?

P.K. Beville: They realize that they’ve just behaved exactly like a person with dementia and immediately make the connection to empathy and support for those with the disease. When we take a moment to see the world from their point of view, it changes our thinking about the need for an environment that supports them. When we view other people’s needs as a priority, the result is empathy.

What elements within the built environment can affect residents negatively, especially those with dementia?

P.K. Beville: People with dementia have difficulty with visual discrimination. In addition, the normal aging eye needs three times more light to see compared to a healthy younger eye. Seniors also lose their peripheral vision and many keep a downward gaze as they walk or use a wheelchair. Therefore, if an environment has things that are above or to the side of the visual field, a senior may not know they’re there. Subdued lighting can make an environment look confusing, making a person feel immobilized. If drawers have no prominent knobs or closets match the walls, a senior may not see them. Eventually, these situations can lead a person with dementia to withdraw and become more confused.

What are some design features that can be incorporated into senior living environments to support residents with dementia or other memory care needs?

P.K. Beville: Everything a resident needs should be visible and out in the open, not stored in drawers where they can forget them. Doors and closets should be painted a different color from the walls or, better yet, the doors should be taken off the closet. Bath and shower areas can look scary, resulting in residents who refuse baths. Making those areas clutter-free and with acoustics that prevent sounds from echoing can help residents feel more comfortable.

To learn more about these keynote presenters and to register for the Environments for Aging Expo & Conference, visit EnvironmentsforAging.com.