A research brief

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Physiology and Psychology of Aging, Health, and Place
(HAPI) investigates how to create healthier cities in the future, with a specific emphasis on
China. Bringing together experts from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (HGSD) and the Harvard School of Public Health
(HSPH), it creates a forum for understanding the multiple issues that face cities in light of rapid urbanization and an aging population worldwide.
Photo by
Ann Forsyth

Health and Places Initiative http://research.gsd.harvard.edu/hapi/
Harvard Graduate School of Design
The Research Briefs series summarizes recent research on links between human health and places at the neighborhood or district scale and provides background for a number of other forthcoming products—a set of health assessment tools, planning and urban design guidelines, urban design prototypes, and neighborhood cases. While the Research Briefs draw out implications for practice, it is these other tools that really provide specific, real-world guidance for how to create healthy places.
© 2014 President and Fellows of Harvard College

As is typical practice feel free to use and cite small parts of this work, with attribution. If you want to use substantial parts, or even this entire document, the following applies. Permission is granted for use for nonprofit education purposes for all of the work except third party materials incorporated in the work, which may require permission from the authors of such material. For permission to use this work in other circumstances, contact the

Harvard Graduate School of Design: hapi@gsd.harvard.edu.
The following people were involved in the Research Brief Series:
Series Editors: Ann Forsyth and Laura Smead
Contributors: Laura Smead, with Yannis Orfanos, Joyce Lee, and
Chuan Hao (Alex) Chen
Copy Editor: Tim Czerwienski
Layout Designers: Yannis Orfanos, with Laura Smead and
Weishun Xu
Thanks to Heidi Cho, Lydia Gaby, Andreas Georgoulias, Emily
Salomon, and Dingliang Yang for assistance and to Rebecca
Miles for helpful comments.
Suggested Citation:
Health and Places Initiative. 2014. Physiology and Psychology of
Aging, Health, and Place. A Research Brief. Version 1.0. http://

page 3
Big ideas
• The proportion of older people is increasing worldwide, especially in countries with higher incomes and those with lower birth rates, such as China.
• Old age (65 years and older) is generally characterized by increasing physical problems (of varying rates), and an increase in both multiple and chronic diseases.
• Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are also relatively common for older persons, but should not be considered a normal part of the aging process. Keeping engaged mentally and socially are important to preventing depression and cognitive decline.
• People 85 years and older have the highest rates of disability and dementia.

• As the proportion of older people increases, so too do the overall rates of disability.

• There is a great deal of individual variation, however, in the rate of health change in older people related to personal differences (e.g. biology, life history).
• Environmental, psychological, and social factors, as well as behaviors such as getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and not drinking excessively, can help to prevent or moderate many common chronic diseases.
• Planning and design can thus help support older people managing the aging process but are only part of the picture. For example, good planning and design for older people provides a built environment supportive of multiple ability levels (universal design), safe and appealing outdoor recreational resources, a health facility network accessible by transport (public or private), and multiple affordable housing options (multigenerational housing, single apartments, assisted living facilities).
The topic of this research brief—the physical and psychological aspects of aging—is very broad. As such, unlike the other briefs in this series, we rely less on individual research studies and instead draw together information from a variety of overview materials and major research trends, such as “successful aging” and
“age friendly cities” work.
Health Issues

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