Elaborating on the idea of empathetic technology, Mr Chen shared how some elderly users feel that some machines and healthcare devices disregarded the dignity of the elderly user. Some monitoring systems, for example, are also designed in a way that “treat [the elderly] as a patient, as fragile, as a subject”. As a result, some seniors they interviewed refused to use the monitors, choosing instead to cover up the sensors.
The challenge then is to design technology that afforded the elderly a more dignified experience and that invited them to take on a more active role in managing their wellbeing: the elderly need to feel as if they are part of the solution, rather than passive subjects.
On the other hand, there are seniors who enthusiastically adopt new technology. Mr Sun spoke of a lady in her sixties who embraced new technology such as smartphones, and volunteered to teach peers who needed more help.
“She took it as a personal dedication to her peers … [These people] become the seeds, the link to introduce technology to others,” he said. “It’s not just about the hardware and software, but how you build a community that makes a solution.”
It takes a village
(Photo credits: DesignSingapore Council)
The need to build a sustainable community is the second overarching insight gathered from the two studies – technology is important as an enabler and a tool, but it is people who make up the heart of the solution.
Mr Michele Visciòla, President of the design consultancy Experientia that developed Design for Ageing Gracefully, emphasised the need to develop Singapore’s social infrastructure.
“What’s missing is community-oriented services; that should be the real direction to head towards,” he said. “We first need to create a community of people and explore the idea of a community … where people can share resources and time.”
Mr Visciòla gave the example of a caregiver who was experiencing burnout because of the heavy economic and mental strain her responsibilities placed on her. In the future, her problem could be alleviated with stronger community infrastructure that pools all available resources and match them to those in need – time-starved caregivers can take a breather by depending on those who are willing to contribute their time and energy.
Communities could also be a powerful avenue to engage isolated elderly. The trick, according to Mr Sun, is to break into the routine of these elderly folk and bring the community to them.
He elaborated that the current system works well for intrinsically motivated seniors who actively sought opportunities, such as the tai chi instructor who continuously challenges himself to try new activities such as singing contests and acting.
The next step is to engage the elderly who are more passive or reluctant to make changes to their existing lifestyle.
One example the team encountered was an elderly woman who felt lonely and was physically fragile but could not admit that she was facing these challenges – she would rather struggle to live independently than seek help from friends and family.
One proposed idea was to bring everyday services such as grocery shopping to under-utilised spaces such as void decks. These spaces would serve as touch points to increase interaction and develop community, especially for the more isolated elderly.
Designing for the future
So what’s in store for the future?
“70 will be the new 50,” said Mr Chen. To promote active ageing, the vision is to develop stronger infrastructure so that our elderly have more avenues and opportunities to engage with society, develop their aspirations and lead more fulfilling lives.
While many of the concepts proposed in the publications are rough prototypes or works in progress, the two studies provide a fertile basis from which we can imagine new solutions and systems to empower our ageing population, and ultimately better the quality of life in their twilight years.
This future, is up to us to create.