NICA Collaboration Hub



Ageing Innovation Accelerator Blog 2: 'Compensation' (by Peter Riddell)

Posted by Anja McCarthy (Admin) 2 months ago Posted in Innovation for Ageing Workshops


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 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:



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


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

This post was edited on Jan 8, 2019 by Meera Vijay

This post has 2 subscribers

Comments (2)

Christine Burridge says... 2 months ago

Peter has written an excellent review of the events and discussions.

For me, the two strong points were

  • that Compensation can actually become more disabling, there is clearly a need for careful assessment of needs, education, and evaluation of solutions whether it be for an individual, a condition, a population.
  • that design is highly significant in determining acceptance and use of the compensatory solution. However, if current homes were built and designed with the idea that we are all ageing - future-proofing - and may experience or temporary or permanent change in abilities then adaptability would be inbuilt.
Anja McCarthy says... 2 months ago

Thanks for your comments Christine. Important points for us to consider in the workshop on Thursday. Hope you can join us.

SIGN IN or REGISTER NOW to join the discussion