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Architectural Human Factors and Re-engineering in Elderly Care

(Image retrieved from The Lancet Neurology)

A topic not actively discussed includes the potential therapeutic effect of architecture as well as horticulture to produce an innovative effect in preventing or slowing the development of chronic disease. Could architecture regarding the application of human factors and re-engineering serve as a significant treatment for the elderly?

The Medical Architectural Research Unit (MARU) of London South Bank University evaluated some European cases of architecture that specifically targeted the elderly, as cited in the World Health Design organization’s website. Field visits from 2005-2008 included Finland, Spain, and France.

Various facilities that focus on dementia care were visited by MARU and offer innovative architectural experiences with holistic approaches that appear to influence the elderly. The Viola-koti of Tampere and Kamppi Service Centre of Helsinki facilities are highlights of Finland, and include human factors-oriented recreational facilities with special exercise activities and workshops; multi-level saunas; and buildings with bi-folding windows that give elderly a wonderful view of the on-goings of the world even in the times of cold, dreary winter months. Next, in Spain, the Madrid Alzheimer Centre has been engineered to conduct bio-mechanistic studies on the probable causes of Alzheimer’s, while at the same time influencing those staying at the clinic with units of residence all independent of each other in design – each topped with well-protected, inspiring courtyard gardens. By understanding ways to incorporate a whole spectrum of care, a central garden even is integrated as being part of a horticultural therapy program. Finally, in Paris, France, the Residence de l’Abbaye allows the elderly in a secure environment simulated as a ‘salon’ on a ‘street of activities’ to learn and discuss about the matters of modern politics and societal issues, keeping their worldly lore active and up-to-date.

This process of course is up to the human experience and how we each individually perceive phenomena. Therefore, architectural human factors and re-engineering would have – like any method of therapy – different effects on different individuals. Yet, the truth remains: an often under looked yet obviously significant stimulus is there, right before our eyes, influencing how we move, perceive, and experience our world. What would our world be like, after all, if our city squares were circles, and our buildings ovals instead of rectangles?


World Health Design (2012) Elderly Care: Active Ageing. Retrieved April 19th, 2012 from:


AGNES – Successful Ageing in a Networked Society

As a response to the growing number of elderly people living alone in their own homes, the AGNES project was initiated by six EU member countries; Sweden, Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy and Austria. The AGNES project follows an approach to keep the elderly mentally and socially stimulated and in contact with others by combining information and communication technologies (ICT) and social network technologies. The objectives are to prevent, delay and help manage common chronic conditions of the elderly to improve and maintain the well-being and independence of elderly people wishing to continue living in their own homes and to reduce healthcare costs. The idea is that the technology should be embedded in everyday activities and objects that the elderly recognizes.

Scientists at a European Union Research Project are developing both the software and the hardware. It is a three-year project started in September 2009 and the aim is to develop systems and devices that can be turned into useful and usable products within two years of completion. One of the developed prototypes is the interactive curtain that turn green when new e-mail has arrived and red when reply is needed urgently. Another

one is the small wooden box containing motion-sensitive sensors. The box is connected to the Internet and can send messages when the elderly touches on one side of the box. If the other side is touched, it means the message is urgent. Shaking the box means that the elderly changes his mind and takes back the message. Seniors from the six member countries are testing the prototypes during three years.

This is a great initiative in today’s environment where it is critical to rationalize elderly care and decrease hospitalization among elderly to be able to cope with the aging baby boomers.


Ageing in a Networked Society – Social Inclusion and Mental Stimulation by John A. Waterworth, Soledad Ballesteros, Christian Peter, Gerald Bieber, Andreas Kreiner, Andreas Wiratanaya, Lazaros Polymenakos, Sophia Wanche-Politis, Michele Capobianc, Igone Etxeberria, Louise Lundholm

Video Source: Euronews Futuris  

The changing shape of the pyramid – how Spain is coping

As the country with one of the highest life expectancies in the world (ranging between 3rd (among women) and 23rd place depending on list, estimation method and gender (Source: CIA World Fact Book 2011 and United Nations World Population Prospects (Highlights, Table A17 or the 2010 revision) Spain has a clear challenge ahead of them in the coming years.

Spain’s new population pyramid in perentages per age group in 1975 vs 2010. Y-axis: Ages. Male population depicted on the left side of each graph and female on the right side.

Well aware of the fact that Spain’s population pyramid has changed shape in the past 20 years from an actual pyramid to that of a thick-stemmed Christmas tree (see above picture), and that the prospects for the coming 40 years is that the population over 65 years of age will grow from today’s 18 % share of the population to 32% according to the Spanish government’s recently issued White paper on active ageing, p. 40 (compared to the 100 years it took to grow from 4% to today’s 18%), Spain’s government, autonomous communities and municipalities are starting to take action. With a multi-faceted approach on how to tackle the related challenges one topic that is, rightfully, always revisited is that of healthcare and, more importantly, the preventive type, focused on how to keep an active lifestyle for better life quality.

One of the things that you might see if you go on a trip around the country is the recent popularity of ‘parques saludables’, health parks, in green areas and along beaches and/or other open spaces. The concept – originally inspired by Chinese tradition and culture, with an inherent respect for our elders and their well-being along with a holistic approach towards a person’s body and health – consists of the setting up of a number of ‘simpler’ training machines that work with your body weight in order to create the adjusted counter weight for you to best strengthen your body and practice your balance. And not only do they provide an opportunity for good training, these health parks also create a fun way of socializing together around something that can be considered a bit more challenging of an exercise than the generic Sunday stroll. And I can tell you they’re definitely fun to use for more than the older generation.


Anyone of you that have experience of such health parks? What’s your opinion about them?

Graph source: El envejecimiento de la población española, Perez-Diaz, Investigación y ciencia, noviembre 2010