The Environment and Aging: What is Hot in Aging Research

Los Angeles-based experts and USC discussed how the environment influences aging. The remarkable improvements made in Los Angeles' physical and social environment, as well as the ambitious goals of supporting an aging population at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology’s annual What’s Hot in Aging Research Symposium on April 19.

USC Leonard Davis School Dean Pinchas Cohen welcomed the attendees and said that the event has grown in popularity over time, just like the interest in gerontology as a whole. He said that the USC Leonard Davis School has trained more than 40 gerontologists and its alumni have achieved great success in academic, business, government, and policymaking.

Laura Trejo ('82), MSG/MPA and General Manager of Los Angeles' Department of Aging is an example of a USC Leonard Davis School alumna. During the symposium, Trejo gave a talk about the Purposeful aging Los Angeles initiative. This partnership includes the county and city of Los Angeles as well as AARP, USC, USC, USC, USC and other organizations that aims at making the area the most age-friendly region in the United States. This multifaceted effort, which will last for years, will help older people with a variety of issues, including transportation, health, and employment. It also encourages civic participation and support from the community. The initiative had been joined by 25 mayors from Los Angeles County's 88 municipalities, which includes Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles.

Trejo stated that there is a tremendous need but also great opportunities to improve the lives of seniors.

Los Angeles's changing demographics have an effect on policy and the social environment

USC Leonard Davis Instructional assistant Professor Caroline Cicero gave an overview on the aging of Los Angeles. She noted that one fifth of Americans will reach 65 by 2030 and that Los Angeles' population of over 65s is expected to grow to over 1 million. Cicero stated that one-fourth of Angelenos aged 65 and over live on their own. Due to high housing costs, more than 200,000 seniors are vulnerable to being homeless in the event of a financial crisis.

Donald Lloyd, USC Suzanne Dworak–Peck School of Social Work Research Associate also addressed the challenges faced by the L.A. area due to the aging population. He noted that while the current ratio of retirees to working adults is 6 to 1, it will decrease to 3 to 1 in 2036. This has a significant impact on the economy. Accordingly to Lloyd, service planning will need to be done carefully and policy changes will be necessary.

Stephen Frochen, a PhD student at USC Leonard Davis School in Gerontology, and Catherine Perez spoke to us about Los Angeles' neighborhoods. Frochen spoke about how the 2006 changes in the zoning laws allowed more elderly care facilities to open in "hot spots" in Los Angeles. Perez presented research that examined how race disparities in education and social cohesion - the feeling one can trust and provide support in times of crisis - differ between disadvantaged and advantaged neighborhoods.

According to Professor Aaron Hagedorn, a USC Leonard Davis Instructional Assistant, technology advancements-from virtual reality and telehealth, self-driving vehicles, and assistive robotics-could address some of the challenges faced by older Angelenos such as social isolation, home safety and security. He also said that technology could help "extend cognition" through providing greater opportunities for communication and problem solving.

Assistant Professor Jennifer Ailshire, one of the event's organizers, spoke about neighborhoods in a public health context-specifically, who is being affected by increasing numbers of shingles cases and the factors needed to increase shingles vaccinations.

Ailshire explained that one-third of people who get shingles will be affected, and these numbers are increasing.

Painful skin diseases such as chickenpox can be caused by the reactivation or reactivation. Older adults are most at risk. Ailshire suggested that these numbers may be related to health access differences. Ailshire also said there is a need for education on shingles and the vaccine which can reduce or prevent the severe effects of cases.

The Impact of Air Pollution on Aging

The symposium featured several scientists who illustrated the risks posed by Los Angeles' ubiquitous environmental danger: Smog.

Caleb Finch from University and Henry Forman from Research gave a joint presentation about the health risks posed to us by nicotine and tobacco smoke. Finch called them "mal-convergent smokers" and explained how they accelerate the aging process. Forman also described the similarities between the pollutants, pointing out that many chemicals are common to both of these substances. They can cause similar inflammation responses. Studies, including several published by USC researchers, have now linked both pollutants to increased risks for diseases of aging.

Finch explained that atherosclerosis as well as Alzheimer's disease share common inflammatory mechanisms. Both are affected in part by smoke and pollution.

Mafalda and Joseph Cacciottolo, postdoctoral students at USC Leonard Davis School, discussed the research they did on air pollution. Cacciottolo discussed how the APOE-4 gene, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, interrelates with fossil fuel pollution, putting individuals at greater risk.

Saenz talked about indoor pollution, which is caused by heating or cooking with wood. Such pollution was linked to approximately 4.3 million deaths worldwide in 2012, and studies of rural households in Mexico indicate that indoor pollution may lead to cognitive problems, he said.

He said that Mexican homes burning coal or wood indoors had a decreased ability to perform memory, verbal, attention and other tasks.

Scott Fruin (Keck School of Medicine at USC) provided an overview of Los Angeles air pollution. He said that although PM2.5-pollution is made up fine particulate matter and can penetrate deep into the human body-is still unacceptable in Los Angeles, environmental policies have made huge strides in recent years.

His presentation included historical photographs that showed the pollution levels at the mid-20th century.

Los Angeles had a dramatic increase in its air quality as a result of the Port's emission reductions. Geraldine Knatz was a professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, and Viterbi School of Engineering. She served as the executive director of port between 2006 and 2014. During this time, she managed an aggressive and ambitious plan to reduce pollution from the port.

Knatz stated that "we were able to decrease the port's emissions by more than 70 percent over five years." He also said that the Port of Los Angeles initiative sparked the World Port Climate Initiative. This group includes major ports around the globe working together to achieve similar dramatic reductions in polluting.