Opportunity knocks: Designing solutions for an ageing society

Posted by on August 17, 2015 in Home Page | 0 comments

  • Tech innovation is vital to help us adapt to ageing: Without productivity improvements, health spending in 2063-64 might need to be 5.0 % of GDP higher than currently projected.
  • A design response to ageing can also benefit UK plc: The over 65s in the UK spend around £2.2 billion per week and they could be spending over £6 billion per week (£312 billion per annum) by 2037.
  • Government and designers must work together to break down the barriers to innovation
  • Report suggests series of ideas for innovation including “cuddle cushions”; “Boris scooters”, kettles which monitor blood pressure and TV ‘buddies’.

The report warns that without technological innovation over the next decade, health and care cost could be higher than currently projected by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Opportunity knocks points out that predictions for the growth in healthcare productivity are very optimistic given historic trends and that technological innovation will be vital to fill the gap.

Opportunity knocks argues that there is significant potential for responding to the challenges of ageing due to developments in wearable technologies, big data, 3D printing, cloud computing, the internet of things, and smart cities.
ILC-UK analysis of English Longitudinal Study of Ageing included in the report highlights some of the problems to be overcome and the barriers to technological solutions.

  • One in three 85-89 year olds have difficulty shopping for groceries and more than one in ten in this age group have difficulty managing money. More than half of those aged 90+ have difficulty shopping for groceries and a quarter of this age group have difficulty managing money.
  • 4 in 10 over 75s and three quarters of over 85s do not have internet access

“This report champions the positive impact that technology and design will play in helping us all to live longer, healthier, independent lives. However, we acknowledge that the potential of technology has not been fully realised. We also have to dispel the myth that this is simply a matter of niche solutions for an ageing society,” said Gordon Attenborough, the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Head of Sectors.

“There’s so much more that we should achieve through the widespread application of existing and emerging technologies. It’s vital that we design and innovate with a broad range of users in mind, wholly inclusive and accessible to all. Achieve that and technology will mitigate the impending costs of an ageing society and deliver the promise it has failed to so far.”

David Sinclair, Director of the International Longevity Centre – UK added: “Technology undoubtedly offers significant potential to help respond to the challenges of ageing. But the opportunity of technological innovation in this area has historically been over egged and under realised. For us to maximise the potential of new technologies however we need more evidence on what really works and whether it will save money. We need regulation which protects consumers whilst not preventing technological innovation. And we need industry to recognise the potential of the older consumer and design for all. Finally, we need a public debate on the challenges and opportunities of using big data to improve the lives of older people. “

Professor John Clarkson, Director of the Engineering Design Centre at Cambridge which has pioneered the Inclusive Design approach commented: “This report highlights that there is a huge commercial opportunity for companies to design inclusively, driving increased customer satisfaction and boosting their market share by delivering more competitive products and services.”

The report highlights a range of ideas for new technology which emerged from a workshop organised by ILC-UK, IET and The Engineering Design Centre at The University of Cambridge. The ideas are designed not as “solutions to ageing” but to highlight the potential for innovation in focussing on this consumer group.

  • A kettle which monitors blood pressure
  • TV buddies to allow people to remotely share the experience of watching a programme.
  • A ‘cuddle cushion’ which would allow relatives being able to send each other cuddles
  • A smart water bottle which would prompt people to drink more to prevent dehydration
  • Accessible and modern “Boris Scooters” (or Segway’s) in towns and cities to help people with mild mobility impairments get around
  • The development of national “trusted information” systems for online and telephone transactions to reduce the risk of scams

The report highlights some ideas to maximise the potential of the sharing economy to support our ageing society.

Cooking buddies

  • A barcode scanner in the home could be used to upload the contents of your fridge to an interface which would share the information with your neighbours. Taking a peek in to each other’s fridges, seeing what people had a surplus of or what was about to go out of date, could encourage neighbours to cook together making meal times more sociable.

Integrated leisure and transport

  • Leisure activities, such as a trip to the theatre or to a restaurant, could come with transport included. When you book a ticket there could be the option to also book transport. If a large number of people were also booking transport to an event a mini-bus could then be sent to collect them all at a much lower costs than them all booking taxis separately
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