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Question: How might we use innovations in construction, building design and digital technologies to help address some of the key challenges around care, promoting independence and effective communication?

Participants were asked to think of how they perceive buildings which cater for older people. What tools/aids/conversions/adjustments spring to mind? Consider building design, kitchen design, bathroom design, general functional space.

This table attracted large of participants. 16 in total. 3 representing companies, 3 carers for family members, 3 from design/build organisations, 2 health product inventors, 2 from 3rd sector organisations, 2 small business owners, 1 university representative

The first two exercises consisted in identifying the issues currently with places of care, whether this was the home, care homes, hospitals etc.   

The issues highlighted were grouped as follows:

  1. Built environment
  2. Social environment
  3. Safety
  4. Support aids/products

 The next few exercises aimed at considering what the key issues were with existing provision around the 4 groups highlighted above.

 

Group

Key Issues

Social Environment in places of care

-        Loss of peers/loneliness

-        Lack of interests or access to activities leads to decline

-        Lack of social life in care homes

-        Some people won’t visit because of the depressing environment

-        Too uniform – people are not the same therefore more activities ought to be available

-        Bright lights, too quiet, too warm, to calm

-        Not always inclusive as care home residents have differing abilities

 

Built environment/design

-        Not adaptable to changing needs

-        Cost of retrofitting

-        Often poorly located in community

-        Cost is a limiting factor

-        Complexity of construction/conversion

-        Visible equipment/adjustments indicates vulnerable person lives in the property

-        Aesthetics are uninspiring and often perceived as institutional

-        Sometimes require major renovation or remodelling and struggle for where to put elderly while adjustments being implemented

 

Support aids/products

-        One size fits all – should be more adaptable

-        Too old fashioned and not subtle in design

-        Availability and opportunity to try alternatives

-        Poor design, appear institutional

-        Most are temporary ‘added on’ aids but could be designed better into all places for all ages

 

Safety

-        Too many access codes to remember

-        Care alarms not efficient

-        Poor signage

-        False alarms

-        Perceived complexity of usage of some products/devices

 

 The final part of the workshop was focused on ideation to overcome the described issues currently being experience in places of care. Several ideas were explored and two selected for presentation.

  1. Modular, self-contained, living space that is mobile and could be set up anyway to enable the user to live independently but close to family or care environment – incorporated standardised features so occupier wouldn’t become disorientated, it had smart technology to capture data and to analyse patterns to prevent accidents or illness
  2. Smart tech device in homes and care homes, ‘Alexa’ type device specifically designed for care needs and focused on the individual
  3. Blue Moon Radio – radio for elderly to include personalised playlists – using existing technology but focus on giving care home patients personal choice
  4. Memory Life – secure, cloud-based memory vault – to create hard copy collections from digital library to include voice and imagery plus products such as personalised games
  5. Artist in residence in care homes
  6. Tablet based care plan for active monitoring of water and medication
  7. Near Field Communication wrist or pendant for door access including for family members and guests
  8. Finger print access technology for care homes

 The two shortlisted ideas were:

  • (1) Modular, self-contained, living space
  • (4) Memory Life memory vault

 The group had little time to shortlist their ideas and therefore were keen to communicate all of them for the next stage of the Accelerator.

Questions:

How might we ensure that people are living in the most appropriate environment for their stage of life?

How might we build confidence in people to encourage them to regain function?

This table attracted 10 participants representing 1 housing association, 2 SMEs (including 1 CIC), 1 architecture practice, 1 building society, 2 VOICE representatives and 3 postgraduate students.

The first exercise drew out issues relating to the house or surrounding area that result in older people declining more quickly. These were grouped into the following broad categories.

The categories were:

  • Size and suitability of the home
  • Location of the home and access to amenities and transport
  • Safety and security concerns
  • Social opportunities and isolation
  • Mindsets

The next exercise identified barriers to needs arising from the prior exercise.

 

Needs

Barriers

Starting off in the right home

Current “poor design” of homes:

  • Need homes suitable for a wider range of abilities
  • “Traditional homes designed for 40% of the population when we should design for the 80%”

Right-sizing – moving to a more appropriate home

 

Potential problems: Functionally inappropriate; home/garden too large; unused rooms; expensive to heat; high ceilings; stairs too difficult.

Negative perceptions:

  • Seen as “down-sizing”, rather than “right-sizing”
  • Moving away from connections and routines
  • Detaching from memories, nostalgia
  • Difficult to downsize and declutter
  • Fear of moving
  • Alternatives “look like it’s for older people”

 

Other:

  • Limited choice
  • Financial constraints
  • Funding is reactive, rather than preventative

Getting out and about

 

 

Uneven paving; Steep banks; Poor access to public transport; Early evenings in winter; Weather; Poor lighting; Rough areas; Fear for safety; Fear of falls

Access to public transport and amenities (shops, doctors, library, cashpoints)

  • Local community facilities closing
  • New housing builds distant from local amenities

Social interaction

 

Challenge of changing communities and culture: Loss of the neighbourhood; Reduced human connection; Feel less secure; Activities-based, interest-based and digital social circles

  • Diminishing social circle
  • Don’t know neighbours
  • Distance from family or friends
  • Limited understanding of value of exercise
  • Limited opportunities for keeping active
  • Lower levels of computer and tech illiteracy

 

 

Attitudes

Resistance to change; Don’t want to be told what to do; Put up with it: “I’m managing”

 

The final part of the workshop was focused on ideation. Several ideas were explored and the following two were selected by the group for presentation.

  1. Invisible adaptations (currently being developed by the housing association participant, but also mentioned independently by an SME participant):
    1. Current situation: Clunky, unattractive, undesirable adaptation fitted into a home at the point of need;
    2. Solution: Functional, universal design, features pre-built into homes that can be used by a person at any time of life as and when needed – and be a better home to grow old in.
    3. Sensorised intergenerational homes (currently being developed by the Future Homes Alliance, but elements were also mentioned by an SME participant) and including:
      1. Moveable walls to enable the home to adapt to stage of life
      2. Inbuilt, invisible Wifi
      3. Smart home tech, such as (i) early morning trigger based on water use; and/or (ii) movement detectors to pick up on changes in rhythm
      4. Digital user guide / control panel for the home.

 (In the end only idea 2 was presented, as idea 1 also came out of the work undertaken by Table 5.)

Question:

How might we delay functional decline by ensuring people continue to carry out challenging tasks as they age?

 

11 people joined the discussion, representing small company, corporate, university and local authority perspectives as well as individuals with an interest in the subject.

 

Using LifeCurve as a basis, we considered barriers that discourage people from continuing to perform tasks that are within their capacity, but they might find difficult. Barriers identified included:

  • Awareness of importance of continuing to carry out tasks independently for future health
  • Lack of confidence in carrying out task/fear of failure or of causing harm
  • Families/carers carrying out tasks because they see it as too difficult/too time consuming for individual
  • Lack of motivation/rewards
  • Lack of meaning to activity; why bother?
  • Poor design making task more difficult
  • Living in an unsuitable environment
  • Lack of support/encouragement
  • Social pressures (e.g. traditional roles at home)
  • Financial/geographic limitations
  • Poor communication with families/carers

 

Given these barriers, we looked at types of interventions that might help, before exploring specific ideas.

 

Barrier

Possible interventions

Low awareness

Communication of LifeCurve findings

Early intervention (in 20s/30s/40s) in preparation for later years

Resources targeted at families/carers

Lack of confidence

Tools to help benchmark capacity

Grouping tasks into strength, fitness, function required to guide individual

Mentoring, advice

Support for families/carers to better understand individual capacity

Others carrying out task instead

Resources targeted at families/carers

Allowing time for individual to complete tasks

Lack of motivation/rewards

Peer group encouragement

Meaningful (to individual) rewards

Consideration of individual motivations

Engagement with peer groups

Lack of meaning

Engagement with peer groups

Encouragement of engagement with work/volunteering/social activities

Availability of local facilities

Poor design/unsuitable environment

Consider design in personal items, home and wider environment

Lack of support/encouragement

Mentoring, advice

Support for families/carers to better understand individual’s capacity and importance of independence

Engagement with peer groups

Social pressures

Considering expectations and roles in delivering services

Take time to understand individual and their motivations

Financial/geographic limitations

Availability of local facilities

Consideration of transport implications

Consider costs in design of products/services

Poor communication

Provide tools for communication of individual needs

Consider impact of cognitive decline and social norms on communication

 

The final part of the workshop was focused on ideation. The ideas that attracted most interest from the group were:

 

“Cook with me” – a videoconference platform where individuals in their own kitchens cook a meal with others online, providing social interaction whilst encouraging healthy eating

 

Recruitment/temporary staff agency focused on older workers; potential extension is a platform to connect retired individuals with volunteering opportunities

 

Intergenerational activities, such as living accommodation including different age groups and platforms allowing the experience of older people to be shared with others

 

Co-housing as a choice between totally independent living and residential care

 

A mentoring/coaching/counselling service for older people

 

Virtual/augmented reality allowing individuals to explore capacity to undertake tasks they are afraid of trying

 

Tools to adapt the difficulty of a task to individual capacity, ensuring tasks are challenging enough to remain fit but don’t risk injury

 

Provision of spaces for social interaction that aren’t solely focused on drinking (not just an age-specific opportunity?)

 

Design of new products with a consideration of needs of an ageing population, particularly in the kitchen and clothing (flexible room layouts? Redesign of street environments?)

 

Gamification and reward schemes to encourage individuals to continue with challenging tasks and create role models

 

Local facilities for shopping and social interaction

 

Communication tools for families and carers to better understand individual needs

Question(s):

  • How might we ensure that compensations are appropriate to the needs of the individual?
  • How might we help older people not to become reliant on a compensation that should be temporary?

 

This table attracted a smaller number of participants in comparison to other tables, with a total of 7 - 1 representing a design company, 1 NICA representative, 1 NUTH representative, 1 Newcastle University representative and 3 VOICE members.

 

The first exercise consisted of listing compensation tools (aids) which are typically used by older people including (but not exclusively) -

  • Walking stick
  • Mobility scooter
  • Crutches
  • Adapted vehicles
  • Stair lift
  • Fold away steps
  • Hearing aids
  • Telephone amplifying
  • Glasses
  • Raised toilet seat
  • Lower level kitchen worktops
  • Tea trolley

 

Next the group discussed how we, as society, can ensure compensation tools (aids) are appropriate for the individual and how users can be encouraged not to become reliant on using such aids. Subsequently, the group also thought about the potential issues that can occur if aids are used over a prolonged period of time. 

 

During discussions, good examples were given whereby mental health and personal attitudes also play heavily in the idea that a compensation tool becomes permanent rather than temporary and should not be overlooked i.e.

  • The perception of having a compensation tool visible to a member of the public provides more confidence to the user and also helps the public compensate the user, increasing awareness, patience and consideration of why the user needs such aid, as the health concern which the aid assists, may not be immediately obvious without the visible aid
  • Users who do become reliant on compensation tools may become debilitated, as the user could loose confidence in being able to do a task without the use and support of a particular aid

 

It was also acknowledged that some compensation tools such as hearing aids, and glasses will be a permanent aid, and not one that could be temporary but becomes permanent.  

 

The final part of the workshop focused on generating idea. Five ideas were initially explored and three shortlisted for presentation. Overall the table had little time to shortlist their ideas, and therefore were keen not to totally dismiss any ideas towards possible compensation solutions although all ideas generated were based on utilising smart sensor technology and personalised care.  

 

The shortlisted ideas included:

1)      Smart walking stick

2)      Smart arm chair  

3)      Height altering toilet

 

 

Questions:

 

How might we design products and homes in such a way that they incorporate age inclusive functionality?

 

How might we influence designers to assist in the development of products that do not have the stigma of being specifically for an older person?

 

This table attracted 12 participants initially, with 3 post grad design students from Northumbria Uni joining the group for the final task. The group had a varied membership, including members of VOICE, a housing organisation and a small business.

 

The first two exercises consisted in identifying a number of compensation tools (aids) and then the group placed the identified tools / aids into common groups

 

The groups identified were:

  • Mobility aids
  • Communication devices
  • Remote / voice activated technology
  • Self-care
  • Sensory products
  • Home adaptions
  • Building design

 

The next exercise was aimed at identifying issues with some of the identified compensation tools / aids.

 

Compensation tool / aid

Issues

Bath / shower seat

 

Difficult to clean

Ugly design

Take up lots of space

Slippery surface

Prevents other people using the bath

Grab rail (inside and outdoors)

Only available in white

Ugly design

Stigma / indicates vulnerability

Doesn’t blend in with surroundings

No options around materials used

Care alarms

Subscription costs

Weekly tests required

Bulky

Can be accidentally activated

Zimmer Frames

Stigma

Ugly

One colour

Hard to use on public transport

Hard to manoeuvre

Too wide

Limits stride length

Access Ramps

Ugly / eyesore

Not always appropriate (issue is often with threshold height of the door)

Stigma / Indicates vulnerability

Take up a lot of space

Large button telephone

Old fashioned design

Speed dial buttons are often too small

Stigma associated with ownership

Look like a toy

Hearing aids

Visible and large (smaller in ear options are beyond many people’s budget)

Short battery life

Poor design aesthetically

Difficult to integrate with other audio appliances

 

 

The final part of the workshop was focused on ideation. The several ideas were explored and two were selected by the group for presentation.

 

  1. The “Activity Frame” : A redesigned more practical alternative to a Zimmer frame.  The group felt that the Zimmer fame has a stigma both with regards to the design and the name.  The function of a walking aid is to enable the user to be more active, so the group thought that the name Activity Frame was more representative and appropriate.

 

  • Selection of colours to be available
  • Collapsible design to enable safe use on public transport (narrow gangways) and ease of storage
  • Use of small balls on the feet to replace the bulky wheeled design

 

  1. “Flexi Grab”: Another compensation tool that was considered by the group to have a stigma associated to it was the grab rail (both inside and outside of the home).   One member of the group commented that a grab rail next to a front door “screamed old person living here”!

 

The group suggested a grab rail that could be recessed into the wall when not in use, which they named “Flexi Grab”. 

 

  • Selection of colours and materials to blend in with the design of the property
  • Flexi Grab rail recesses into the wall when not in use
  • External Flexi Grab rails could be illuminated to act as a night light adjacent to external doors
  • Another suggestion for the Flexi Grab rail was to incorporate a permanent rail into the design of a canopy over the exterior design of a property.  This would provide the functionality of a traditional grab rail but without the property appearing to have been adapted for an older person

 

Question:

How might we better use and adopt the LifeCurve model for the prevention and provision of care in order to increase the number of individuals who stay on top of the Life Curve trajectory?

 

This table attracted a smaller number of participants - 8 in total.

3 representing companies, 1 NICA representative, 1 manager in a Care Home, 1 insurance/financial services company, 1 Age UK representative + 1 unknown (member of the public?).

 

The first two exercises consisted in identifying the groups of people involved in the assessment of care needs. The groups were:

  • The individual (rather than the patient)
  • Healthcare professionals
  • Housing providers
  • Employers/ees
  • Carers and care homes
  • Community based organisations
  • Policy makers, finance providers
  • People in charge of communicating a message

 

The next few exercises aimed at identifying how it may be possible to best to communicate the LifeCurve and assessment of needs and what the obstacles are.

 

How?

Challenges

Best practice sharing tools between care homes focused on staff management and embedding learning

Commercial/confidentiality/competition

Employees

Adoption of new practices, resistance to change

Technological solutions for safety/security (scam prevention)

Costs

Awareness

Sub-standard solutions on the marketing

Lack of understanding

Training needs

Empowering dialogue between individuals and carers (e.g. a guided conversation toolkit)

Training needs

Adoption of new practices

Costs

Time

Admin

Smart technologies for self-diagnosis

Internet access

Costs

Sub-standard solutions

Too many solutions

Adoption

Support to facilitate peer to peer interventions, community dialogue, information programme

Scaling up whilst keeping in line with specific local/condition needs

Apathy

Access

Employer/ees support and guides

Adoption

Stigma

Resistance to change

Consistency

Data protection

One customer/one record

Data protection

Legal framework

Interoperability

Admin

Communications specialists/ professionals involvement to break down messages/tasks

Culture

Difficult to put services around them/their needs

 

The final part of the workshop was focused on ideation. Four ideas were explored and two selected for presentation.

 

  1. Vetting software programme with records on everything (e.g. energy consumption) to help family members manage an individual’s environment as well as control potential threats remotely.
  2. Recognition system for care homes staff focused on staff well-being. Can be done across care homes and would encourage good practice and better decision making.
  3. One person/one record programme that links different systems and feed into different organisations. A common individual dashboard.
  4. Smart technology pack which combines all connected technologies over time:
    1. Smart TV
    2. Mobility sensors
    3. Alexa (or similar)
    4. Internet providers
    5. Personal records
    6. Payment plans

 

The two shortlisted ideas were:

 

(4) Smart technology pack, including ideas from (1)

(3) One person, one record dashboard

 

The group had little time to shortlist their ideas and therefore were keen to communicate all of them for the next stage of the Accelerator.

At the Ageing Innovation Accelerator workshop in December, our aim was to understand better the physical challenges that individuals face as they age. By better understanding the challenges, we will be well placed to come up with novel solutions based on genuine insights at the next workshops in January and February.

The December workshop included 60 people with an interest in ageing. Some currently run small businesses, some are part of larger organisations in the public, private and third sectors and some just want to find out more about opportunities arising from an ageing population. Importantly, the workshop included people from a very wide age range (early twenties to 70+) and with a wide set of experiences. At the SuperNetwork, we strongly argue that intelligent design and effective innovation arises from bringing together different perspectives in looking at a problem.

The workshop introduced the LifeCurve concept (see https://youtu.be/1atXSWCTXCs for background) and outlined four approaches to tackling the challenges identified through the LifeCurve:

  1. Building reserve, so that people have more capacity to deal with issues as they age;
  2. Reactivation, allowing people to regain function that they may have previously lost;
  3. Compensation, using tools and techniques helping people to carry out tasks they couldn’t otherwise do;
  4. Care, where older people require support from others to perform important daily tasks.

I facilitated the session on building reserve and reactivation. The session involved six groups of people and was helped massively through the input of representatives from NICA and the VOICE older people’s network. The key points discussed are outlined below.

 

Health and fitness

All six groups mentioned physical fitness as a key way to delay functional decline. Rather than focusing on aerobic fitness though, it appears that muscle strength (whether in carrying out heavy tasks like carrying shopping or in small motions like brushing teeth) is more important at all the stages of the LifeCurve.

Maintaining strength also implies maintaining a healthy diet. As people age, they can experience reduced sense of smell, which affects the experience of eating. In addition, if people are living alone they may be less likely to cook proper meals, resulting in weight (and strength) loss.

How might we help people build and maintain muscle mass?

How might we help older people to get the nutrition they need and enjoy their food more?

 

Awareness and behaviour change

The groups reacted strongly to the LifeCurve concepts and particularly to the idea that they had direct control over how they age. Whilst public perceptions appear to be that ageing is something that happens to people, LifeCurve suggests that the loss of function accompanying ageing is something we can control, delay and potentially even avoid completely. What if we could compress the loss of functional decline into the last few days, weeks or months of life, rather than losing function over a number of years? The groups suggested that greater awareness of how people age could start to change behaviour and lead to a healthier older population.

Changing behaviour is notoriously difficult but the groups talked about a process for effecting change, starting with awareness, providing incentives to change, motivating people and making change as easy as possible.

How might we encourage people to make changes in their own lives, following the awareness – incentivise – motivate – ease model?

 

Social effects

The groups talked extensively about how comparison with others is often how we determine our own choices. If the LifeCurve becomes accepted as a way of educating people about the impact of their choices, could benchmarking be a way to measure progress (or delaying decline) and encourage changes in behaviour? Positive role models and peer pressure can be important drivers of change. This is more difficult if people are isolated but positive examples like the impact of the Nintendo Wii in encouraging people to take up limited exercise, the 10,000 steps encouraged by pedometers and the effects that joining clubs can have on participation were also mentioned. Benchmarking could also be relevant to healthcare professionals and family members in identifying the initial signs of decline and considering intervention, particularly with older people who also have a degree of cognitive decline.

The groups also highlighted the importance of mental health in this context as well, both in terms of the impact of mental health issues on participation and on the benefits of participating on an individual’s mental health.

Finally, the impact of ensuring interaction between different generations, cultures and interests was highlighted. This tends to happen naturally where there is a common interest pulling people together. However, the description of activities as being for the ‘elderly’ or ‘pensioners’ was seen as off-putting to many and preventing inter-generational interactions.

How might we create mechanisms for benchmarking people, so that they can see how they compare to peers (potentially in a fun, competitive way, or in conjunction with healthcare professionals)?

How might we increase participation in clubs and societies amongst older people, particularly where the memberships are inter-generational?

 

Perceptions and communication

Building on the previous comments, the language and imagery used in connection with older people was seen as a big issue in preventing people taking responsibility for their own LifeCurve. If older people are always shown as being in care homes, there is an expectation from society and from individuals that this is the norm. There are parallels here with the benchmarking points made above, as well as with the aversion to ‘pensioner’ language.

Some of the research findings around the impact of positivity are relevant here; those individuals that have a positive mindset around ageing demonstrate slower functional decline than those that have a negative or resigned mindset.

How might we create a more positive perception of ageing through language and imagery?

 

Housing and environment

Whilst the groups didn’t go into a huge amount of detail, there was mention of the importance of the environment someone lives in on their functional decline. For example people who live in housing that is not appropriate for them could end up declining more quickly. One participant mentioned an experience of not wanting to go out after dark because the surrounding streets were poorly-lit, meaning a significant reduction in activity levels in the winter months, having an impact on health. The discussion went on to focus on the importance of confidence in people being more active, whether this is affected by physical experiences (e.g. a past fall meaning the individual doesn’t want to risk being outside) or emotional effects (such as a fear of being attacked or taken advantage of).

How might we ensure that people are living in the most appropriate environment for their stage of life?

How might we build confidence in people to encourage them to regain function?

 

Trigger points and transitions

Some personal experiences were shared that suggested an importance around particular points in life. For example, retirement was seen as a transition that could be used positively to encourage newly-found time to be used in ways that delay functional decline (e.g. taking up an activity) or could be negative in isolating an individual from past routines and motivations, leading to reduced activity.

Other examples around people’s choices in their 20s, 30s and 40s and how these choices impacted on health in later life were also mentioned.

How might we make use of an understanding of trigger points to drive positive behaviours?

 

Stubbornness versus independence

The groups talked at length about the idea that people don’t always access the help they may need at certain stages and could be seen as stubborn. However, the LifeCurve concepts brought an entirely different dimension to the discussion. LifeCurve suggests that people who continue to carry out tasks they are capable of doing and shunning unnecessary help may delay functional decline. Those that take help for a task that they could possibly do themselves will lose the ability to carry out that task more quickly. Personal examples were shared of people in their 80s and 90s continuing to carry out what were seen as very labour-intensive and perhaps unsuitable tasks, such as using a manual washing machine. Anecdotally, these individuals were seen as stubborn but were noticeably more active right up to death, suggesting that they had effectively delayed functional decline (‘compressed the LifeCurve’).

In this context, it is possible that providing care that is unnecessary is actual detrimental. An over-reliance on technology may make this worse.

How might we delay functional decline by ensuring people continue to carry out challenging tasks as they age?

 

Personal choice

In all of the above, there is some tendency to assume that everyone is the same and ignore the diversity of the population. There is no basis to assume that older people have uniform needs, wants or desires, in fact the older population may well be more diverse than younger age groups, having had longer to form their own opinions and preferences.

The groups also commented on the power of indirect persuasion and on people being more committed to decisions they have had a genuine say in making.

In this context, wherever possible the individual should take the lead in decision-making about their own lives. The provision of choice is important and is perhaps under-emphasised in current product and service design.

How might we provide more choice to people, so that they can select the products and services that are most appropriate (and attractive) to them?

 

Inclusive design

Finally, much of the discussion focused solely on older people as users of products and services. However, inclusive design was mentioned in the context of designing things to work for everyone, rather than one demographic segment. Examples were given around kitchen design, which tends to include work surfaces at a certain height and cupboards of a certain size, not allowing (at a reasonable cost) people to choose the right layout for them. In this context, the question isn’t necessarily about how to design well for people with dementia, or people with limited upper body movement, or people in wheelchairs, but more on a modular, flexible approach which can be adapted to anyone.

How might we ensure that design incorporates the flexibility to be suitable for all?

 

Identified challenges and next steps

We will now be doing more work around the ‘How might we…?’ questions above, with the aim of identifying two that we really want to focus on. These will be presented at the next workshop on 10th January at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle. The aim of the 10th is to identify solutions to some of these questions, which we can then help interested individuals and organisations to develop into commercial products and services.

The workshop is open to all and registration is via https://ageingws2.eventbrite.co.uk.

 

About the Ageing Innovation Accelerator

The Ageing Innovation Accelerator aims to create new products and services of value to an ageing population and ensure they are successfully commercialised. It is led by the Innovation SuperNetwork and National Innovation Centre for Ageing teams. Northstar Ventures can provide funding for suitable businesses as they progress through the programme and Newcastle City Council are offering space for the businesses to work in. The programme is supported by the Aging2.0 Newcastle Chapter and European Regional Development Fund.

In this first running of the Accelerator, we are focusing on the physical decline experienced by people as they age. However, this is only one small element of the possible challenges and opportunities posed by an ageing population and it is intended to run further versions of the Accelerator in the future.

Simon Green

 

At the Ageing Innovation Accelerator workshop in December, our aim was to understand better the physical challenges that individuals face as they age. By better understanding the challenges, we will be well placed to come up with novel solutions based on genuine insights at the next workshops in January and February.

The December workshop included 60 people with an interest in ageing. Some currently run small businesses, some are part of larger organisations in the public, private and third sectors and some just want to find out more about opportunities arising from an ageing population. Importantly, the workshop included people from a very wide age range (early twenties to 70+) and with a wide set of experiences. At the SuperNetwork, we strongly argue that intelligent design and effective innovation arises from bringing together different perspectives in looking at a problem.

The workshop introduced the LifeCurve concept (see https://youtu.be/1atXSWCTXCs for background) and outlined four approaches to tackling the challenges identified through the LifeCurve:

  1. Building reserve, so that people have more capacity to deal with issues as they age;
  2. Reactivation, allowing people to regain function that they may have previously lost;
  3. Compensation, using tools and techniques helping people to carry out tasks they couldn’t otherwise do;
  4. Care, where older people require support from others to perform important daily tasks.

 

I facilitated the session on Compensation; using tools and techniques helping people to carry out tasks they couldn’t otherwise do.  Six different groups took part in the session and each group included representatives of VOICE and NICA who assisted greatly with the discussions.  They key points from the session are summarised below:

 

Timing

Is the “compensation” a temporary or permanent measure?

This question was posed by several delegates.  From an entrepreneur’s point of view this is a vital commercial consideration, with one small business stating that it’s a challenge to bring something to market that may not be needed after time.  The longevity of the product, marketing, distribution and the customer are all effected by the challenge of a compensation being temporary or permanent.

There was strong feeling across the groups that many compensatory measures become permanent when they could be temporary, this was considered to be due to a lack of communication and understanding.  People are often told of the compensation that is necessary for them without any prior discussion or any consideration as to what they (the individual) thought was appropriate.  This can lead to a dependence on a compensation that may not have been entirely appropriate and could accelerate decline relative to the LifeCurve model.  A number of examples were given of compensations that were using technology to make light, often repetitive tasks easier for older people, such as remote control handsets that close blinds etc; it was discussed that often such compensations were inappropriate as they reduced the opportunities for physical movement / exercise and led to a more sedentary lifestyle, which would lead to a sub optimal progress through the LifeCurve.

How might we ensure that compensations are appropriate to the needs of the individual?

How might we help older people not to become reliant on a compensation that should be temporary?

 

Education and involvement

All six groups suggested that an opportunity exists to create an environment where individuals are mentally prepared for a specific and suitable compensation.  There was a strong consensus that by educating people about their situation and involving them in the process of determining what compensation could be best for them, it would be more likely that the correct compensation would be used and where appropriate for an agreed prescribed time.  The groups believed that confidence in the process would be of benefit to the subject’s mental health and as such they would be better prepared for any compensation and associated trauma.

How might we empower older people to have an active involvement in their care to enable them to have an influence and understanding of what is best for them?

 

Design not stigma

The word “stigma” was mentioned in every discussion.  The feeling across the groups was that many compensations were obviously designed for older people and therefore visibly announced a persons position in the ageing process.  Examples were given of common compensations such as handrails adjacent to the front door of a house, grab rails in bathrooms, red cords (emergency call) and bulky hearing aids, that had a stigma attached.  One group member stated that such compensations were an advert reading “an old person lives here”.  

The groups all talked about “future proofing” design so that compensations such as kitchen and bathroom adaptions aren’t merely rolled out when an individual reaches a certain age, but are incorporated into age inclusive design for all kitchens or bathrooms (rather than age specific design).  It was discussed in the groups that large housing groups and developers had the opportunity to lead the way in making future proofing of design the norm.

It was discussed at length how there is the opportunity to change perceptions around certain compensations (removing the stigma of perceived age specific design) thanks to current technology design.  Personal examples were given relating to people who resisted using bulky hearing aids as they are obviously visible, whereas discreet smaller hearing aids that are not noticeable are met with less resistance to use (but have an increased cost).  During this discussion it was suggested that the prevalence of blue tooth audio headphones from companies such as Apple, who produce widely popular and desirable products, could be creating the opportunity for more innovative design for compensations commonly regarded as being for the ageing population.

Customised design was also considered to be an opportunity for bringing to market compensations that an individual identifies with and as a result would be more comfortable using.

How might we design products and homes in such a way that they incorporate age inclusive functionality?

How might we influence designers to assist in the development of products that do not have the stigma of being specifically for an older person?

 

Cultural differences

One of the group discussions focussed on cultural differences and how they can often be a challenge to successful compensations.  There are significant barriers to BME communities accessing general healthcare and many other services, with language being a fundamental and significant barrier especially as someone ages and cannot directly communicate with those involved in the compensation process.  A personal example was given to the group, explaing how information relating to the care of an elderly relative needs the support of younger English-speaking members of the family, which greatly reduces the education and involvement of the older person in the decision making progress.  This scenario greatly reduces the opportunity for the individual to make choices and feel empowered, thus reducing the likelihood of an appropriate and acceptable compensation.

How might we overcome cultural barriers, which prevent many people for BAME communities having the knowledge and understanding of the help that is available to them?

 

 Identified challenges and next steps

We will now be doing more work around the ‘How might we…?’ questions above, with the aim of identifying two that we really want to focus on. These will be presented at the next workshop on 10th January at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle. The aim of the 10th is to identify solutions to some of these questions, which we can then help interested individuals and organisations to develop into commercial products and services.

The workshop is open to all and registration is via https://ageingws2.eventbrite.co.uk.

 

About the Ageing Innovation Accelerator

The Ageing Innovation Accelerator aims to create new products and services of value to an ageing population and ensure they are successfully commercialised. It is led by the Innovation SuperNetwork and National Innovation Centre for Ageing teams. Northstar Ventures can provide funding for suitable businesses as they progress through the programme and Newcastle City Council are offering space for the businesses to work in. The programme is supported by the Aging2.0 Newcastle Chapter and European Regional Development Fund.

In this first running of the Accelerator, we are focusing on the physical decline experienced by people as they age. However, this is only one small element of the possible challenges and opportunities posed by an ageing population and it is intended to run further versions of the Accelerator in the future.

Peter Riddell

At the Ageing Innovation Accelerator workshop in December, our aim was to understand better the physical challenges that individuals face as they age. By better understanding the challenges, we will be well placed to come up with novel solutions based on genuine insights at the next workshops in January and February.

The December workshop included 60 people with an interest in ageing. Some currently run small businesses, some are part of larger organisations in the public, private and third sectors and some just want to find out more about opportunities arising from an ageing population. Importantly, the workshop included people from a very wide age range (early twenties to 70+) and with a wide set of experiences. At the SuperNetwork, we strongly argue that intelligent design and effective innovation arises from bringing together different perspectives in looking at a problem.

The workshop introduced the LifeCurve concept (see https://youtu.be/1atXSWCTXCs for background) and outlined four approaches to tackling the challenges identified through the LifeCurve:

  1. Building reserve, so that people have more capacity to deal with issues as they age;
  2. Reactivation, allowing people to regain function that they may have previously lost;
  3. Compensation, using tools and techniques helping people to carry out tasks they couldn’t otherwise do;
  4. Care, where older people require support from others to perform important daily tasks.

 

I led the discussions on the challenges and opportunities around “care”. As defined by Peter Gore, care is simply doing something for somebody that they can no longer do for themselves. A very important message that resonated with all the groups that discussed care with me was that premature care can be disabling. This allowed the groups to consider the various types of care and not just “health” care. For example, the role of trade specialists (gardeners, cleaning companies) in supporting people with age related conditions. This also encouraged the group to rethink the objectives of care as well as the assessment of care needs in order to improve the ageing trajectory.

 

The discussion on care was rich with professional insights and personal stories which really added to the definition and description of the current challenges and opportunities. The themes discussed were:

 

The definition of care: from negative to positive connotations

 

It is challenging to discuss the concept of care without generating accounts of difficult and often personal stories that affected individuals at one point in their lives whether for themselves or a loved one. Very often, the concept of care is linked to negative beliefs: disability, dependence, end of personal freedom, imposed on somebody, delivered by somebody they don’t trust.

What is the role of the language we use around the communication and delivery of care. What about an “age coach” or something similar to re-define the care giver. How can care be seen as a two-way process, something that is done in conjunction with patients and/or their families?

 

How might we change the definition and concept of care so that it is associated with something more positive?

 

The costs and complexity of care systems: changing the business models around care

 

Issues around the costs of care came up in all the group conversations. These are complex to understand but the costs of care are well publicised and the groups recognised the need to rethink the business models around care at home or in specialist environments such as care homes. There was a feeling that sometimes the system can be perceived as unfair and riddled with unnecessary complexities that better managed would lead to savings and more equality in the distribution of care. Referring back to Peter Gore’s model earlier and more adapted interventions lead to reductions of costs. However, many examples were given of when early needs were not communicated or detected because of the fear of escalating costs from the providers and the users.

 

How might we change the commercial and financial models of care?

 

 

Communication and care: a broken link?

 

Families/friends are the number one providers of care. Yet, it seems that the information available to care givers is confusing, sometimes not available and complex. How can this be changed? What is the role of education and communication programmes in this context?

 

How might we provide information to carers that is both easily accessible and easy to understand?

 

Assessment of care needs: system vs individuals

 

Linked to the challenge of communication of care, stories shared by the groups seem to indicate that the system is not always geared to focus on multiple needs and that a comprehensive assessment of individual needs is difficult to achieve. This can be exacerbated by the lack of awareness of individuals’ own needs. The LifeCurve findings and tools are adding some significant perspective and predictability to this process.

 

How might we better use and adopt the LifeCurve model for the prevention and provision of care in order to increase the number of individuals who stay on top of the LifeCurve trajectory?

 

 

Sources of care: trust and interaction

 

Many discussions focused on the issues of trust in care and the need for more social interaction in order to address mental as well as physical needs. Although it is a key problem area at the moment this also seems to be a theme that generated the most opportunities for solutions. If, as suggested earlier, the care giver is redefined, that families/friends are better informed how can care giver address key wellbeing needs such as loneliness? What is the role of the community and the third sector to prevent and provide adapted care?

 

How might we address social isolation?

 

Places of care: some insights

 

A few groups discussed the places of care. The home, care homes and healthcare venues were cited. Some interesting discussions took place on the current government drive to build over 1m houses and the need to rethink the home as “home of all ages”. Some interesting demonstrator sites such as the Future Homes project on Newcastle Helix could be the place where some innovations could be tested.

 

How might we use innovations in construction, building design and digital technologies to help address some of the key challenges around care, promoting independence and effective communication?

 

 

Digital solutions: an opportunity?

 

The role of digital solutions was the source of much debate in most groups. As Peter Gore suggested technology can be a friend or a foe in the provision of care and this was recognised in the discussions. However, the groups acknowledged that provided that the costs/benefits were clear and provided the digital solutions addressed a genuine and tailored need then digital solutions provided a real opportunity to address some of the challenges identified here.

 

Identified challenges and next steps

We will now be doing more work around the ‘How might we…?’ questions above, with the aim of identifying two that we really want to focus on. These will be presented at the next workshop on 10th January at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle. The aim of the 10th is to identify solutions to some of these questions, which we can then help interested individuals and organisations to develop into commercial products and services.

The workshop is open to all and registration is via https://ageingws2.eventbrite.co.uk.

 

About the Ageing Innovation Accelerator

The Ageing Innovation Accelerator aims to create new products and services of value to an ageing population and ensure they are successfully commercialised. It is led by the Innovation SuperNetwork and National Innovation Centre for Ageing teams. Northstar Ventures can provide funding for suitable businesses as they progress through the programme and Newcastle City Council are offering space for the businesses to work in. The programme is supported by the Aging2.0 Newcastle Chapter and European Regional Development Fund.

In this first running of the Accelerator, we are focusing on the physical decline experienced by people as they age. However, this is only one small element of the possible challenges and opportunities posed by an ageing population and it is intended to run further versions of the Accelerator in the future.

Estelle Blanks

 

Menopause Cooling Device

 

 As we get older our bodies naturally change and for women the menopause can last for around 7.5 years. Women going through the menopause experience a range of both physical and psychological symptoms and the effect on everyday life can be from relatively minor to hugely inconvenient and embarrassing.

One of the problems experienced by women who are going through the menopause are hot flushes and night sweats. Approximately 60-80% of women are affected and some can experience them more than 20 times a day. Some women continue to have hot flushes even after they have gone through the menopause! Although each individual is affected differently, everyone would agree that hot flushes and night sweats are symptoms they would rather live without.

At the National Innovation Centre for Ageing we held a series of workshops to better understand what women experience during a hot flush or night sweat in collaboration with Cambridge Consultants and Open Lab, at Newcastle University.

A range of scenarios such as sleep, social occasions and holidays were explored and there were lively discussions around how women coped or even avoided these situations. What became very clear was the significant effect hot flushes and night sweats were having on women’s physical, psychological and social wellbeing and the lack of products available to manage their symptoms. One attendee commented that “I’m irritated by the disruption this is causing to my life… I’m tired and it has had a massive impact on my quality of life.”

Valuable insights were gained into the techniques and products that women used to manage the negative aspects of hot flushes and night sweats. One theme that emerged was that women would prefer to avoid having to take drugs such as HRT, either for medical or personal reasons. Some of the methods women used were magnets, a fan and avoiding alcohol. 

As part of the workshop, Cambridge Consultants introduced some initial product ideas which have the potential to dramatically reduce the negative impact of hot flushes and night sweats.  These were received with great enthusiasm and the participants provided excellent feedback which suggested a strong demand for such devices and that rather than a discreet wrist-worn device, women preferred a single product that could be applied to a number of locations on the body, mainly the chest, face and neck.

Through this initial series of workshops and research, the understanding of what women feel, think and do during a hot flush or night sweat has been greatly improved.  In addition, there were glimpses of other symptoms that women experience when going through the menopause. It is clear that there are several opportunities to improve lifelong health and we will be taking this forward, continuing to work with women affected and Cambridge Consultants to develop and bring to market a product would be happy to carry and use.

Image courtesy of Cambridge Consultants

It’s no secret that the global population is ageing, and whilst this presents social and economic challenges, it also presents a huge opportunity to develop cutting edge innovation. And with climate change on everyone’s agenda, I take a look at the cross section between design for demographic change and design for environmental sustainability.

Home is where the heart is

The UK’s population is at its largest ever- in 2016 nearly 20% of people were aged over 65 years old [1]. Whilst the increase in life expectancy is an achievement to be celebrated, healthy life expectancy has not increased at the same rate. Theresa May addressed this discrepancy when she stated her ambition for us to “enjoy five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035”. [2]

The suitability and quality of our homes has a direct impact on how well we age, yet it’s estimated that 4.8 million properties in the UK are classified as non-decent, of which roughly 35% are inhabited by older people[3]. There’s a causal link between poor quality housing and long term conditions such as heart and respiratory diseases, and injuries caused by falling in our home environment can be devastating for older people. Our homes also contribute to our mental wellbeing – our feeling of safety, identity and the quality of our social interactions. Overall, it’s estimated that poor housing costs the NHS at least £600 million per year [4].

Ageing and the environment

Age inclusive design and environmental sustainability should go hand to hand, and visionary thinking is needed to truly address the opportunity in housing. For me, flexibility and genuinely “smart” application of technology offer exciting opportunities.

Flexible living: The need for better homes for an ageing population does not necessarily equate to better homes for older people – it means designing homes that adapt to our changing needs as we age, and accommodates a growing trend in multigenerational living. This calls for flexible living spaces that we can expand, contract and customise as our requirements for the space around us change.

Construction techniques such as a modular housing and demountable walls could offer interesting solutions. They also invite opportunities for the use of innovative new materials that can play a role in the circular economy by being recycled or re-used.

Technology: Smart home systems for energy automation and control can double up as health and wellbeing monitors. As our homes and devices become more integrated, the development of functions such as voice recognition will be key in managing our health and our homes.

“Smart” homes should be just that: smart in how they enable us to live well, retain independence, how they work, how they relate to and minimise their impact on the environment. The National Innovation Centre for Ageing is privileged to be working with a number of pioneering housing developments that take a fabric-first approach which recognises and responds to demographic change. Developments such as the Future Homes Alliance and South Seaham, both in the north east of England are meaningful and visible examples of what can be achieved. Let’s have more of them!

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing will soon be located in its own building of the future, which is currently taking shape on the Newcastle Helix site. The building will be also be home to the National Innovation Centre for Data, along with global research companies, academics, businesses and innovators. The building design has been driven by core principles of collaboration, accessibility and inclusive design, and a variety of stakeholders have been consulted throughout the design process. This is a space that everyone will have a stake in- we’ll have an exciting programme of public events and exhibitions when the building opens in 2020. Further details about the building can be found here: https://newcastlehelix.com/in-depth/architecture-for-innovation?cn

NICA new building
 
 


[1] ONS, 2017. Overview of the UK population: July 2017 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/july2017

[2] “PM speech on science and modern Industrial Strategy: 21 May 2018”, Teresa May https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-science-and-modern-industrial-strategy-21-may-2018

[3] International Longevity Centre, 2008. Sustainable planning for housing in an ageing population: A guide for regional-level strategies.

[4] Building Research Establishment & Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (2010) Good housing leads to good health

Age Does Not Define Us

Posted by Rosie Hetherington (Admin) 5 months ago

Patrick Bonnett at the Witham

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing’s first public exhibition: Age Does Not Define Us

Earlier this year the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and the Age of No Retirement created a thought-provoking exhibition which aimed to disrupt existing views about ageing. We wanted to change the narrative around ageing, to encourage people to radically rethink their understanding of age and ageing and to showcase that age certainly does not define us!

The exhibition showcased inspirational photography from the residents of Barnard Castle, and further afield, along with a series of inspiring seminars. The response from the public was truly fantastic:

“A great, joyful exhibition”

“I can’t believe I’m as old as I am. No I don’t think age defines me and I don’t think it ever has”.

“I love this exhibition. Having turned 60 this year I feel inspired to never feel old and irrelevant”

The exhibition ran for four weeks in September, closing on October 6th 2018. We used this opportunity to say thank you to those who so kindly offered their time and support for this exhibition by agreeing to be photographed. We hope that these images will serve, not only as a special memory of the invaluable role these individuals played in this exhibition but as a reminder to them to continue to age without boundaries!

 

 

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