Medical Design for the Aging Population - the “Silver Tsunami”12-Apr-2016
The Silver Tsunami is the latest buzz and a worldwide challenge many countries have to face and resolve. How does design fit into all of this?
There was a remarkable increase in birth rate after the Second World War, and the Baby Boomers born during this period of time are now hitting the age of retirement. According to Siddharth Dutta, industry manager of Frost & Sullivan’s Transformation Health Program, Germany and Japan have already been identified as “Super Aged Nations” last year, meaning over 20% of the countries’ population is older than 65 years old. The Netherlands, Sweden and France will also fall in this category by 2020. At that very same year, for the first time in history, the number of older people will outnumber the number of children younger than 5 years of age.
To create and design products and policies that can keep up with this “aging trend” has become the most crucial and ultimate mission for designers of different disciplines. These designs are to solve the problems that elderly people face on a daily basis as well as to improve their living standards, and they can be discussed from the following perspectives: 1) product design, 2) interior design for work and health services environment, 3) wearable technology, 4) user interface.
The number of the elderly in the work place might be a minority at this moment, but data shows that this will change in the very near future, where the opposite becomes common practice. CRE8 DESIGN believes that the work places of tomorrow will have to evolve to cope with this phenomenon. The most important would be to improve the physical work environment. Vision and sound enhancements, such as bigger texts, auto light enhancements or even voice-controlled copy machines, are needed in order to match elders’ senses. Office layouts will be designed to avoid long walking distance to facilities and obstacles like thresholds, steps or stairs, so whenever seniors are doing their daily routines in the office, for instance, walking down the corridor or paying a trip to the washroom does not become a hassle.
Technology plays an indispensable role in society nowadays; however, many elderly people are not willing to learn new technology or they do not want to bother others to teach them repeatedly. Voice-controlled robot assistances can be created to solve this problem and lighten elders’ technical experience at work. Furthermore, elderly people do not have the same energy or work rhythm as younger people. Adjusting working hours according to elderly people’s biological clock also improves productivity: this can be made by creating shorter breaks in between instead of a single, longer break; and by forwarding the hour work starts since elders tend to wake up earlier.
As the population of senior citizens continues to grow, the demand for medical care will automatically increase. Kris Verstockt, Owner of CRE8 DESIGN, explains that deaths that happen in the hospital are not only caused by fatal complications and serious illnesses, but also because of insufficient monitoring and check-ups. More deaths could be prevented if nursing staff would be able to monitor their patients constantly and cope with an emergent situation just in time.
Verstockt further mentions that, nowadays, the frequency of people monitoring themselves with health trackers might be even better when they go jogging than in a hospital bed. To improve on this, our designers believe there are three main tactics: 1) increase monitoring frequency, 2) build an emergency evaluation system, 3) keep monitoring systems up-to-date. A system that can evaluate and identify which patient’s problem is more urgent than another helps medics and nurses prioritize. It is often that a heart rate monitor goes off because the patient takes off or moves the device, not because of a sudden cardiac arrest. Once the evaluation system is established, nursing staff can know more precisely how to handle the situations all at once.
Also, many hospital equipment and facilities are not up to the latest technology. Indeed, from a financial perspective, the hospital would not replace the equipment and facilities unless broken and unusable, especially when they are built to last and very expensive. Yet, it is important to eliminate the equipment that is not qualified to perform or operate advanced medical skills. Aside from the three main tactics, it is also necessary to make the hospital environments convenient for self-care. Not all elderly people have their other halves or children to take care of them during their hospital stay; thus, having an environment that allows elders to get things done by themselves is crucial.
With the help of technology, some of the non-medical or repetitive tasks, such as cleaning the nursing environment, pushing the elders’ wheel chair to where they need, or holding their drips in the bathroom can be done by robots. In more advanced cases, robots can accompany and interact with elders by reading books to them, playing cards with them, or even helping them with their physio therapy.
Undoubtedly, designing senior friendly products and services has become a popular trend. Wearable technology is one of the hottest topics when it comes to the subject area, yet, the hype seems to have slowed down a bit recently (Verstockt). This may be attributed to its impracticality. Wearable technology and its data collection would only be able to live up the hype and become meaningful if the data can be further analyzed and give its users feedbacks. If it simply displays the “facts” collected, such as how many hours one has slept, how many miles one has walked, one’s heart rate throughout the day and etc., users would only become uninterested with this seemingly high-tech gadget before long. To step up the game, wearables would need to be connected through the “Internet of Things”, which allows wearables to combine and analyze one piece of data along with a large amount of information collected from the past or from other categories. This function will allow wearables to provide a more precise and accurate solution to its users’ current status. Instead of just telling its users how long they have slept last night, it can further inform them how to sleep better. Wearable technology needs to be beneficial for its users’ daily life or improve its users’ living quality in order to survive the market.
Speaking of technology, there is also a demand on the rise that can be improved to be more senior friendly: user interface (also known as UI). Bigger phones (elderly-friendly phones) and bigger screens seem to be a thing in technology nowadays, but what about bigger texts and bigger icons? The small texts and icons on smart phones or tablets can be quite challenging to read for elders. Apps or wearable technology would first need to be functional and beneficial for elders, then made easy to operate for them as well.
The world and society changes, develops and evolves according to people’s demand. The Industrial Revolution started because of the large demand increase in the market; people had to find a way to massively produce in order to meet the demands. Now, the 21st century, humans are facing a rapidly aging society. To fulfill the demands in this market, people would have to change and re-design current environments, and make them suitable for elders. Luckily, in a technological era, these changes are not far-fetched; these senior friendly improvements are all possible. People would just need to take an extra mile to develop a better system to make everything flow better.
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