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Update From Modern Aging Singapore: Kickoff Workshop

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Modern Aging Singapore kicked off in the middle of August. So far, the program has seen active participation and support from aspiring entrepreneurs. About three hundred students, health practitioners, researchers, and members of the public attended the Kickoff Workshop held at the NUS I Cube Building Auditorium on the morning of August 15.

Attendees were treated to four presentations from experts in aging and business: Overview of Aging by Prof. Angelique Chan of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Healthcare and Business by Dr. Jeremy Lim of Oliver Wyman, Home and Center Based Care by Dr. Ng Wai Chong of the Tsao Foundation, and Product Design for Seniors by Hunn Wai of design firm Lanzavecchia + Wai.

MA2Prof. Chan highlighted some key trends and statistics on aging in Singapore. One surprising point was the high prevalence of social isolation among seniors here. This finding spurred aspiring entrepreneurs to think of novel solutions to address this trend.

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Dr. Lim went on to outline the aging sector in terms of business potential. One suprising finding, according to theNational Center for Policy Analysis, is the average net worth in 2010 was 848,000 USD for sixty five to seventy four year olds and nearly seven hundred thousand dollars for those above seventy five. These figures encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to enter the aging sector.

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Dr. Ng discussed the current status of home and center based care in Singapore. He highlighted specific needs in these care settings frequently used by seniors. This discussion allowed aspiring entrepreneurs to hone in on key areas of need and address these pain points. For example, some challenges in these settings include the quick and painless transferring of patients from bed to chair and vice versa, and increasing the time health practitioners can spend with seniors.

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Mr. Wai rounded off the presentations with insights from product and design perspectives. He introduced examples of good design for seniors, such as mixed use canes and walkers, or stylish back braces. This presentation especially inspired aspiring entrepreneurs to consider seniors’ lifestyles and tastes when introducing new product ideas.

In addition to expert presentations, attendees also heard two senior role models share their life experiences and lessons. Younger members of the audience seemed glad to hear the wise advice dispensed by the seniors. The kickoff event concluded with a networking lunch. Participants became so engrossed in conversations around aging that they lingered past the scheduled end time.

Currently, Modern Aging Singapore has progressed to the business curriculum and selection phase. The top twenty teams have been selected and paired with industry mentors to hone their business ideas. The twenty teams will soon be pitching at the semifinals judging event for the top six spots. Meanwhile, all participants of Modern Aging Singapore are able to access the same business and aging curriculum on the Modern Aging Online Learning Portal to continue learning and improving their business ideas. If you would like to access the Portal, please write an email request to info@modernaging.org.

Find out more about Modern Aging, at www.modernaging.org.

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A New Perspective: Design Thinking for the Elderly

This post is the first in a series of articles focused on design thinking and aging. In future posts, we will explore the use of personas in designing solutions for seniors. We will also address problems identified by seniors themselves.

Imagining the ecosystem surrounding seniors in Singapore. Examples given are not exhaustive.

Imagining the ecosystem surrounding seniors in Singapore. Examples given are not exhaustive.

Last week, the ACCESS Health Singapore team attended a DesignSingapore forum titled Rethinking Health and Wellness for the Elderly. Among the fresh perspectives and opinions shared at the forum, one point really stood out to us: Often, designers who design products for seniors view seniors as isolated individuals. In reality, the elderly live and interact with others in their families and communities, such as family members and health professionals. They engage others in their external environment multiple times throughout the day: when getting coffee, seeing their neighborhood doctor, seeing specialists at hospitals, visiting community centers, going to the supermarket, and even through online sites and discussion boards. Behind these interactions, or touchpoints, lie many higher level entities that share an active interest in the wellbeing of the elderly, such as ministries or charities.

This learning point came from applying design thinking and ethnography to aging. One principle of design thinking is that all design activity is social in nature. Ethnography aims to explore social phenomena from the point of view of the subject, in this case seniors. At the forum, videos were shown of interviews with various seniors and their caregivers. These seniors and caregivers were asked what challenges they faced in daily living. Beyond these answers, researchers also followed the seniors on their daily activities, like cooking and exercising, in true ethnographic fashion.

In one clip, a frail senior was shown cooking for himself. His legs are weak so he sits on his wheelchair at the stove. But this position is often low and awkward. Upgrading to an adjustable height chair could make cooking easier for him.

A video still showing a senior cooking. An adjustable height chair could make cooking easier. (Photo: DesignSingapore)

A video still showing a senior cooking. An adjustable height chair could make cooking easier. (Photo: DesignSingapore)

One woman interviewed in the video had left her job to care for her father full time. Even while providing fulltime care, she said, there are moments when she cannot be there, physically, to catch her father if he falls. Such personal examples peppered the forum, turning abstract issues into real and moving stories.

When we think of the people, places, and organizations seniors interact with, many opportunities come to light. One senior featured in the video had lost his leg to amputation due to diabetes. After being fitted with a prosthetic, he still found it tiring to navigate his neighborhood. He told the interviewers that he was truly glad to receive a motorized personal vehicle from a welfare organization. Some limitations remain. Narrow corridors and places without ramps are inaccessible to him. However, he is now able to take public trains and go shopping, everyday tasks that would have been nearly impossible before. The motorized vehicle has improved his quality of life. In this case, an organization found a solution that has allowed this senior to engage more with the people and places around him.

A motorized personal transport like the one pictured can help seniors unlock and explore more of their community and environment. (Photo: Free Images)

A motorized personal transport like the one pictured can help seniors unlock and explore more of their community and environment. (Photo: Free Images)

Engaging ethnography and design thinking for the elderly may seem unconventional. But some researchers acknowledge the benefit of taking into account social and environmental aspects of aging. A recent BMJ article reviewed existing ideas and concepts of Successful aging refers here to physical, mental, and social wellbeing in older age. The authors found that traditional conceptions of successful aging focused largely on individual bodily health. For example, the Activities of Daily Living scale tests a senior’s ability to complete a basket of self care tasks. These tasks include feeding, toileting, and grooming.

The authors found in their review that psychosocial and external factors are important to successful aging too. Yet, the authors found that these factors are underrepresented in traditional models of successful aging. For example, the Activities of Daily Living scale does not measure social activities such as holding a conversation or enjoying a sport outdoors. The authors wrote, “[Successful aging] is clearly not simply a physiological construct, so it seems intuitive that psychosocial components should be included in otherwise biomedical models of [successful aging].” The authors concluded that conventional models for aging can benefit from including social and external components of seniors’ lives.

Design thinking and ethnography can be applied at all levels of the ecosystem surrounding seniors. Consider seniors, the people they interact with, the people and places they engage with, and the organizations that help support them. Imagine a senior living out a typical day in this environment. What gaps and opportunities do you see? Are there any potential collaborations between organizations? We feel these added perspectives will help craft more targeted, efficient products and solutions to help seniors.

Design for dementia

My co-blogger Stéphanie Treschow earlier blogged about an inspiring London-based fashion brand for pensioners by a young female fashion school graduate, Fanny Karst, designing clothes for women three times her age. I don’t know if Hampus Rendmar, a recent graduate from Konstfack (University College of Arts, Crafts & Design) in Sweden, had heard about her and gotten inspired or if we might be seeing an emerging trend among art/fashion school graduates, but his recent graduation project had a related audience – people with dementia.

Hampus feels that interior design at today’s nursing homes lags behind in general and says that dementia patients have the same right to trends and design as does everyone else. He means that many dementia patients must have gotten tired of the old and worn traditional furniture that fills residential care homes today. Therefore he has created a series of furniture targeting this audience with a focus on design that gives a sense of calm and safety. ‘Calm’ is also the name of two chairs in the project, made out of beech and steel, that have been painted in mediterranean green, since it is said to have a calming effect. Furthermore the chairs have a rocking effect, something that research has shown can diminish worry and stress.

What is up next for Hampus is yet to be told, but both visitors at the final art graduation projects’ exhibition by Konstfack and he himself noted that his furniture was widely popular among the audience throughout the whole exhibition. Maybe ‘Calm’ is soon to be found in a nursing home near you.

Source (in Swedish): http://www.dn.se/bostad/han-vill-ge-dementa-god-design

Image source: http://blog.trendgruppen.se/?p=10760