Ann Sarte

Urban seniors more active, gerontology grad finds

May 29, 2008

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By Roberta Staley

It may seem unusual for a young adult to take a sincere interest in the elderly. But for Ann Sarte, who convocates this June with an MA in gerontology from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, that interest runs deep enough to have become a passionate life study.

Vancouver-born Sarte grew up with her paternal grandparents who were immigrants from the Philippines. Years later when Sarte was at university, her mother brought her own elderly parents into the family home. "I learned much from living in a multigenerational household," she says.

Sarte’s master’s thesis focused on the elderly and how the urban environment affects their physical activity. Walking was key, as this activity strongly influences seniors’ quality of life and health and the ability to live independently. She compared one group of urban seniors with their suburban counterparts to determine how much time individuals spent walking and driving.

She focused on the urbanized Central Lonsdale and suburban Deep Cove neighbourhoods in North Vancouver. Twenty seniors, aged 60 to 87, kept highly detailed diaries of their activities. The urban seniors spent 11 hours a week walking to get groceries or attend activities. In comparison, the suburbanites walked less than seven hours a week. The Deep Cove seniors also spent more time driving: eight hours a week compared to three hours by those in Central Lonsdale.

Sarte says the study is important for urban planners wanting to create pedestrian-friendly communities. Such studies will become increasingly important as the Canadian population ages — one in seven Canadians is now a senior — and more attention is placed on creating green, sustainable communities, she says.

Sarte’s work has garnered international attention. She planned to present her findings at the end of May at the Environmental Design Research Association conference in Veracruz, Mexico. She is also on the team of SFU and Oregon academics that received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant last year to do a three-year comparative analysis of neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Portland. "We want to shape our neighbourhoods so that the healthy option becomes the easy option," Sarte says.

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