30 August 2007

Insights into an ageing society

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Ageing society
Acknowledging the significance of aging society and the related challenges to world wide welfare, Denmark’s TrygFonden, INDEX: and CIID set out to investigate the lives of elderly people to provide a new understanding of old age as inspiration for new designs solutions.

They research broke some notions held about old people and shifted the focus of design thinking from being a facilitator of special aids and appliances to seeking opportunities in the socio-economic and macro perspective. Their findings reveal distinct trends in the area of secondary occupations, connectivity, dignity and the way time and space is perceived amongst the elderly.

Drawing from user observation methodologies, design thinking and synthesis we observed and filmed old people in their homes in UK, US, Denmark, India, Taiwan, Italy, Israel, South Africa and Columbia.

Informed Anecdotes I: Insight into an ageing society (pdf, 11.9 mb, 19 pages)
This article puts the findings in context with the person and the possible solutions that apply to individuals.

Four main drivers were found to be the putty that holds the lives of the old people we observed together:

  1. Secondary occupations: Old people find a secondary occupation to have a purpose in life, create rhyme and maintain self-esteem.
  2. Connectivity: Communication, feeling of inclusiveness and information management is equally important to old people.
  3. Dignity: Independence and self esteem change the perception of the self in old age.
  4. Perception of time & space: How the use of time and space changes in various stages of old age.

The four main drivers were surprisingly found to be independent of culture, context, ethics, income or nationality.

Five related concepts were also detected and substantiated these findings:
1. The importance of rituals
2. Denial of ageing
3. Need for sense of rhythm
4. Grocery shopping is significant
5. The paradox of wisdom

The article concludes with a few potential concept directions to illustrate the possibilities of how we can translate the insights of this research into objective design thinking.

Informed Anecdotes II: Design for an ageing society (pdf, 3.5 mb, 12 pages)
The second article deals with the macro issues of the ageing and describes how design thinking could contribute to a more age integrated society and transform a notional burden into an opportunity.

The article concludes with seven lines of thought:

  1. The granularity of old age: Most of the myths and notions about aging arise due to a lack of understanding of the variations amongst the elderly.
  2. The notion of retirement: The current structure of retirement is heavily drawn from the industrial era where workers were worn out from decades of hard labour and had a lower life expectancy.
  3. Cultural variations: Cultural and social variations in the aging process are detected in different countries.
  4. The design challenge: Design thinking when used at a strategic level could transform these key insights into affirmative action.
  5. Vision of age integration: A big aspect of caring for the elderly involves integration with the rest of society. Providing a network of care that transcends age is a powerful tool in this process.
  6. The universal approach: Adopting the principles of universal design is already a big step closer to creating a more elderly friendly design.
  7. Service opportunities: The aging society of fers new opportunities in the service economy. Many services have the unique quality of being able to plug the gaps in the social structure. Services can act as agents of support by introducing new patterns of behaviours, bridging accessibility gaps and inducing motivations.

In conclusion:
“Quality of life in old age moves beyond mere creature comforts to having a healthy, secure and meaningful life. Healthcare and housing is just one facet of their needs. Building a sense of inclusiveness and dignity should be a public initiative as much as a social responsibility.”

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