Octogenarian to discuss keys to aging

Old age often conjures up images of lonely, reclusive people bent on a path to mental and physical atrophy.

But at 83, Robert Kahn, a professor emeritus of psychology and public health at the University of Michigan, shatters this stereotype with his active lifestyle and perseverance in scholarly endeavors.

Last week he traveled to Arizona, San Francisco and Michigan. On Friday, he will visit Tampa.

“Vibrant is an underestimate of who he is,” Katherine Hyre said, director for the USF Training Academy on Aging.

Kahn will discuss the keys to “Successful Aging: Prescriptions, Prospects, and Persisting Problems” Friday at 10:30 a.m. in the College of Public Health Auditorium A.

In the mid ’80s, Kahn and physician John W. Rowe tried to combine existing research on aging and “reconcile different data sets” to determine the characteristics of successful aging, Hyre said. They attempted “to understand what the total picture of aging might be.”

Kahn is best known for his book, Successful Aging, which he co-authored with Rowe. The elements of successful aging include exercising regularly, participating in intellectual activities, maintaining personal relationships, and having some form of spirituality, Hyre said.

“You want to have people continue to be active participants to the extent they can be,” Hyre said. “You want individuals to continue to grow as they age.”

Kahn and Rowe’s book has altered the dynamics of some independent living facilities. Their philosophy on maintaining essential areas of one’s life, while minimizing health problems, provided the inspiration for Masterpiece Living, a program implementing the book’s principles at University Village, a continuing-care retirement community located on 22nd Street in Tampa.

“They’ve taken this community here (University Village) and have gone from a medical type of care, where people take care of your medical needs, to now they’re interested in a more holistic model of care where they’re interested in your social health, your intellectual health, your spiritual health as well as your physical well being,” said Katie Hammond, a USF graduate student in Aging Studies.

Hammond collects data on the pilot project, Masterpiece Living, to ascertain whether the program has made a difference.For instance, as part of Masterpiece Living, taped lectures are shown to University Village residents in an attempt to foster intellectual growth. Last week, residents viewed Dr. Mormino’s history class, Modern Florida, which covers the social, political and economic changes that occurred in Florida’s history from 1821 to the 1980s.

“I think it’s amazing that you can get 85-100 people sitting and listening to a lecture,” Hyre said.

Although Kahn did not create Masterpiece Living, he has been involved with the project.

“He has been very active in collecting baseline information on these elder residents on their health, beliefs, paid and unpaid activity, their satisfaction with the staff and services, with life overall, and their spiritual beliefs,” Hyre said.

Even though Kahn’s scholarly reputation precedes him, Hyre said he doesn’t confuse people with lofty vocabulary and technical jargon.

“He’s very accessible,” Hyre said. “He’s intellectual and certainly will be presenting important work, but he is an excellent teacher. When he says things, they really are interesting and usually profound.”