Designing for an Ageing Population

Designing for an Ageing Population

Updated: Jun 18

This article was written by Olga Kokshagina as a result of the workshop on the same topic that was run during the ISPIM Connects Fukuoka conference in December 2018. Olga is one of the founders of ISPIM's Special Interest Group on Innovation Management Methods for Industry.



Ageing population is definitely a context we live in:

  • only in the UK the percentage of people who are 65+ increased to 17.8 percent in 2015 (14.1 in 1975 – source: Nesta) and will jump exponentially in 2045.

  • As Prof. Patrick Bonnet, Development Director of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University puts it, “Life expectancy increases by 12 minutes every hour or by 5 hours every day…”.

  • At the same time we experience decline in birth rate. For instance, in Japan the population decline hits its record numbers where the number of babies born in the country is down by 25.000 in 2018 (source: JapanTimes).

We need to change the way we think about age, support healthy and happy longevity.



As numerous sources argue, this change won’t happy in a day: significant societal, political, economic barriers need to be overcome. Therefore, it is important to understand how age inclusive we are and what are the barriers that we face to design adequate solution for our ageing populations. For this we need to understand ageing better, identify thoroughly challenges and opportunities in relation to ageing.


Ageing 2.0 introduced 8 challenges that ageing population faces: lack of engagement and purpose as a result of isolation, outdated social norms, financial wellness that involves later life employment, new models of planning, mobility and movement, daily living and lifestyle, care giving and care coordination, brain health. Many organisations have been established over last 10 years to deal with these and other related challenges and we see existing institutions that align their priorities on dealing with ageing as well (see for instance, The National Innovation Centre for Ageing, UK; Stanford Centre on Longevity, US, European Ageing Network (EAN), MT Health Care Design Research Inc., Japan, etc.). Events all around the globe try to tackle challenges and benefit from the business opportunities ageing contains. According to Merrill Lynch, ageing population (50+) represents the 3rd largest economy in the world.


How to prepare our health system, social services to support the needs of ageing population?

And in particular, how to extend health life expectancy?


SOCIAL ISOLATION AND LONELINESS


One of the major problems of ageing population and one of the major risks of mortality are social isolation and loneliness. By 2040 the number of socially isolated elderly people will more than double. What can we do to challenge traditional view of approaching isolation of ageing population, better understand their needs and discuss areas to focus on?


C-K method was used as an analysis standpoint to build a common definition for the challenge; comprehend current difficulties and help us find original ways to deal with bottlenecks and design new solutions. C-K separates state of the art (available knowledge) and exploration phase (concept development) but also defines how to use the existing knowledge to structure the unknown.


1. Setting up the challenge

To set up the challenge and provide background information on the challenge and traditional view of dealing with isolation and loneliness of ageing population; we have worked with two experts Patrick Bonnet, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University, UK and Yasuko Akutsu, MT Health Care Design Research Inc., Japan during the collaborative workshop at ISPIM Connects Fukuoka.



Figure. C-K map (Source: ck-theory.org)


During the workshop experts and participants shared their view on what is the current problem, what are the causes and which actions are already in place to deal with them. As a result we have built a current definition of the problem: Ageing population experiences reduced health life expectance due to often perceived isolation and social illness that case a sense of emptiness; People experience lack of contacts and interactions with a community and often the quality of interactions is poor.

  • Isolation is often caused by social environment due to the inadequate transportation scheme that reduces access to public transport; and people are losing their ability to drive, experience fatigue: Isolation can be also caused by health issues leading to a decreased physical performance: or mental issues (dementia) where people suffer from disability. Loneliness also causes people to move to the care giving facilities earlier.

  • Socioeconomic factors reduce individuals ability to own substantial resources in order to use help of health care facilities early enough. Loneliness and isolation might be gender specific as well. As Yasuko Akutsu pointed out: “In Japan male population suffers from loneliness even more than women”. Another major problem is communication: people don't want to admit that they feel lonely.

Different solutions exist such as establishing communities to connecting people living in the city and rural areas and sustaining them; helping elderly finding hobbies or volunteering already exist but they don’t seem to solve issues for everyone. These programs help people recover from loneliness; aim to improve their digital literacy; create new experiences by putting adequate policies in place to create aged friendly society within the same geographical area.


2. Spotting bottlenecks & designing alternative solutions


Once a common definition is established and shared among all participants, each building block can be interrogated to identify bottlenecks and design alternatives. Of course, multiple definitions of what constitutes loneliness and isolation in the context of ageing population can be established depending on the experts participating in the process.

Workshop resulted in several directions to explore further. Three main areas to explore a variety of solutions are related to:

  1. Rethinking community management and relations among elderly and across generations

  2. Building digital technologies for elderly

  3. Focus on education, inclusion and communication.

First, what if social lunches are in place; rotating families can be experimented or even settings where elderly and young can work together established?


Second, digital literacy for elderly is easy to establish. Free courses on basics of using digital technology can be put in place but we need to think of how this content should be delivered. In addition, to avoid decline in cognitive abilities and create a sense of “virtual belonging”, what if technology and in particular VR can help? For instance VR spatial exercises can strengthen the spatial orientation of seniors and those with decline of memory and thinking skills. For instance, an application DoVille offers VR games specifically created to deliver a positive effect on cognition.


Third, we often see ageing as a problem, as an additional cost to the society. But we often forget that 65+ are the best experts that we have in many different fields: What if we find ways to leverage on their expertise? What if we make it fun and enjoyable for them while they still keep perks of being retired? Also a problem we identified is that often solutions for elderly are designed without their help. They need to play a role in the design processes and even design solutions themselves. This should not be limited to providing the input to the design process but actually helping them design the products in their own.

Finally, we need to deal with stigma of being old. It is important to communicate and better. Define of what does it actually mean to age and what elderly implies for all of us.

All alternatives, individually or combined, open up a variety of different possibilities to consider. Certainly, this process does not lead to generate feasible solutions yet, but challenges the dominant view, helps to imagine possible futures.


C-K method was used here to organise exploration of the field by

  • Creating a common “workable” definition of the concept

  • Expanding efficiently on the spectrum of possibilities.

We continue enriching the map and searching for knowledge useful to design more original and robust ideas. Please reach out to help us enrich this work and transform these ideas into valuable projects in the future.

ISPIM Connects Fukuoka aimed to shed light on how three global challenges - ageing, energy transition & building sustainable ecosystems can be tackled through innovation. As part of this process, ISPIM collaborated with National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University, UK MT Health Care Design Research Inc. to explore how C-K methodology can be used to create a strategic roadmap for social isolation and loneliness of ageing population.


This is the first workshop in a series that will be organized by SIG Innovation Management Methods for Industry on this challenge. Here we aimed to define what are the causes of isolation and loneliness, identify current solutions and their limits and identify possible scenarios.


Next steps are to deepen our understanding, explore what is missing to design ambitious moonshot projects and create opportunities on this particular challenge. If you want to be part of the SIG Management Methods for Industry, or have a challenge in mind, please reach out to kokshagina@ispim.org

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