How to Design for the Aging Alone

I had an enlightening conversation today with IDEO, a global design company. Through innovative work and creations, they help business leaders and companies evolve and grow by getting involved with the design and build of new products and services.

I'm convinced if the Elder Orphan group had access to creative designers like IDEO and others, together we could turn the aging industry on it's head.

Think about it.

Most of the members live alone and have for a very long time. From that, we are savvy, resourceful, solution-oriented, well-educated, and have many opinions, along with ideas.

We don't sit and wait for our lives to change.

In the two years of it's launch, the group segments into local meet ups and topic related subgroups like travel, co-housing, relocating, and even cooking for one. Contact me if you want to learn more about us. 

The Trick - Transition Design

IDEO encourages companies to step back from ideas but instead to look at and study behaviors and cultures. Take a look at Apple, IKEA, and Google, each has worked very hard to developed the culture, processes, and habits that drive their success.

When I hear or read this kind of stuff, excitement revs.

In the article, What Electric Cars Can Tell Us About Redesigning the Food System, the first strategy to think about is, "to design for emerging behaviors."

So, let's think a bit about one of the biggest issues in the aging industry today. It is the decline of caregivers, both family and professional. 

The strategy helped me look at the the problem with a different perspective.

From the shrinking caregiver population to the "acts or behaviors" that a caregiver performs. If design teams could "follow" a caregiver throughout the day and observe the tasks one performs while giving care, that could open to an entire new way of solving the problem.

So, instead of replacing a human being,  design new approaches that solve the things they do, which are:

  • Meal preparation, 
  • Medication reminders,
  • Grocery shopping & errands,
  • Light housekeeping,
  • Socializing,
  • Bathing, 
  • Mobility assistance
  • Transportation
  • and more.

And how about social isolation and loneliness?

No doubt that seniors struggle with these feeling, just ask the Elder Orphan group. It's a tough issue when living in the suburbs when one cannot drive or not drive very well.

That's why so many people in our group gravitate to Facebook. It easily alleviates disconnection. My heavens, do they like engaging there! In a recent academic survey of the members which 500 participated, we asked,

What technology will be most important as you age?

(Choose all that apply.) The top three were: 

  • Online social connection like Facebook 26%
  • Medical alerts 16%
  • Online access to medical and legal records 14%

The bottom three: 

  • Legal and personal records
  • Home security
  • Shared rides app (give me online connection and skip going out - my assessment)

Here's a clever idea that takes Facebook to another level.

Have you heard about the virtual senior center? Yes, it has an online access and the older residents connect with others via an application like Skype and Zoom.

Now, for me and you, the younger senior, we prefer going out. But for those who struggle with driving and mobility, it gives them a chance to connect with real people face to face via video screen. They can't shake hands or give hugs, but I saw a bunch of smiles and lots of talking. How great is that?

Okay, designers, I challenge you,

What service, or app can you deliver to older people who want?

  • Local face to face connections with like minded individuals (not Meetup, please, I've suggested that)
  • Affordable housing solutions like cohousing that doesn't stick us in the country or take us to the cleaners
  • Ways to support our pets (lovingly) while we're hospitalized - the pets are family
  • Transportation to medical appointments

These are just a few. Want to learn more about our needs. Contact me - [email protected]. 

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