Working to reshape the world for a rapidly aging global population, designers and engineers are learning to apply the concepts and technologies of their fields to address the clouding eyes, aching bodies and broad life experiences of the elderly.
Modern design reflects the fact that today’s designers and engineers are being asked to do something remarkable: retool the world for a rapidly aging global population, and do it on a tender and personal level.
From easy-open pickle jars for arthritic hands to accessible parks and cities that promote social interaction, bright young designers are learning to look at products, buildings, transportation networks, communication grids, open spaces and community structures from an older person’s perspective.
The need is great and growing. Due to falling birth rates and longer life expectancies, the world’s percentage of elderly people – defined by most demographers as those 65 and older – is rising dramatically. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people over the age of 65 is expected to triple from 524 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion by 2050. For the first time ever, people over 65 outnumber children under five. The elderly also represent the fastest growing demographic segment worldwide.
SIMULATING OLD AGE
Technologists and policy planners have started to act. For example, to help guide design for the aged, engineers at Nissan, Ford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed old age “suits” that simulate the physical infirmities of an 85-year-old, complete with cloudy vision, stiff joints and wobbly balance. Experiencing the physical effects of age helps engineers better understand the needs of the elderly.
Even new technology is getting the elder-design treatment. While the elderly have tended to adopt new technologies at a lower rate than the general population, that trend might be changing. A report on technology use among seniors from global think tank Pew Research Center found that some segments of this group – especially among the more affluent and educated – are using digital technologies at a higher rate than typical for past generations.
For example, smartphone ownership among people 65 and older has doubled since 2013 in the United States. In the Netherlands, at least five insurers reimburse users of smart home sensors, which monitor indicators such as changes in gait that could give advance warning of a fall. Amazon’s voice-controlled digital assistant Echo answers questions, calls relatives, controls appliances and even reads the news. On-demand online services deliver groceries, medicines and rides to the doorstep of otherwise home-bound people.
“Over the years, I have learned to put myself in place of the user I design for,” said Sahar Madanat Haddad, founder and chief designer of Sahar Madanat Design Studio in Amman, Jordan. “This comes from first understanding the user, being attentive to their needs, spoken and unspoken, and studying their day-to-day life. It’s simply designing with empathy. When it came to designing for the elderly in particular, the first thing that we noticed is that most elderly do not want to use products that look assistive.”
Her latest product, a household emergency response kit to perform CPR and defibrillation, looks like a stylish, rolled pad that is, according to the product concept, “As simple as a pillow and a blanket, and as familiar as tucking someone in!”
Similar efforts are popping up worldwide. Sha Yao, an industrial designer who graduated from Soochow University in Taiwan with a degree in Japanese language and culture, created a spill-proof tableware set for Alzheimer’s patients. Students at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan, have developed a cloud-linked, wearable Tremor Acquisition and Minimization (TAME) glove, which suppresses wrist tremors that can hinder the performance of daily activities.
Read the rest of this story here, on COMPASS, the 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine
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