Let's start a conversation about other possible futures for our older selves

A different mood seemed to be settling as I began drafting this article. It feels like a cautious breeze of change and optimism is heading our way, the tentative welcoming of an autumn reset on the horizon after months of uncertainty and turmoil.

New starts, and big change, can be inspired by innovation, and for me that innovation comes from two primary sources: The AAA ISO Leaders Forum in May was jam-packed with original thinking. If you missed out, this link will take you to the summaries, presentations and video.

The other inspiration is a £40 million Innovate UK competition which aims to fast-track the development of innovations borne out of the coronavirus crisis, while supporting the UK’s next generation of cutting-edge start-ups.

Innovate UK received a record number of applications – over 8,600 - and investment is already being distributed to over 800 projects with a very wide ranging remit. From a virtual-reality training/teaching platform to enable medical students to upskill remotely and perform simulation surgeries, to  a social media app connecting local communities and allowing volunteers to target support to the most vulnerable members in their neighbourhoods.

According to Innovate UK Executive Chair Ian Campbell: “The ideas we have seen can truly make a significant impact on society, improve the lives of individuals, especially those in vulnerable groups and enable businesses to prosper in challenging circumstances.”

I am excited to be monitoring a significant number of these projects as part of an Innovate UK Community Care cohort. For confidentiality reasons I can’t say too much about individual projects at this time, but there are lots of synergies with the work of AAA, and the new ISO standard in particular, and I will be back to you on this later in the year.

What the Innovate UK and ISO challenges have in common is a belief that a combination of innovation and collective responsibility, applied to sustainable commercial agendas, can overcome even the most daunting obstacles to achieve social change.

Social Isolation is a larger contributor to dementia risk than physical inactivity, hypertension, diabetes or obesity

A new study from UCL and published in Ageing Research Reviews, is an apt reminder of why we need more multigenerational neighbourhoods. The research reviewed evidence from 12 studies in seven countries in Europe and Asia, involving 21,666 people over 55. Results suggest that people over 55 who live on their own are 30 per cent more likely to develop dementia than those who live with other people.

According to lead author Dr Roopal Desai: "Our findings suggest low social contact could have serious implications, especially as dementia rates are already rising due to ageing populations.It might be because people who live alone experience more loneliness or more stress, both of which can have adverse physical health effects, or it may be due to the lack of cognitive stimulation."

Paul Quinn, Director of Regeneration at Clarion, Europe’s largest social housing group, believes it is time to act: “The impact of ageing and of dementia on society is not being addressed as urgently as it should. This is arguably as important a challenge to the built environment sector as our response to the climate emergency which requires global solutions, targets and indicators. I am looking forward to working with the AAA and ISO in a collaborative effort which I hope will go some way to redressing that imbalance.”

ISO TC 314 Ageing Societies Standard for smart multigenerational neighbourhoods aims to:
Accelerate construction of a new breed of age-friendly housing in ‘smart’ socially supportive multigenerational neighbourhoods, employing innovative technologies, business and service models, together with an enabling ecosystem, to improve health and wellbeing and reduce the financial burden on Citizens and State.

Informed by the World Health Organisation’s Housing & Health guidelines, this standard aims to further the aspirations of AAA’s Neighbourhoods of the Future initiative. Fostering older adults’ dignity and worth, and their sense of purpose and security as valued members of a multigenerational society, we will work collectively towards establishing an ISO standard and a voluntary code of conduct upon which strategies and solutions can be built.

Benefits of international standardisation

ISO International Standards give world-class specifications for products, services and systems to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. They provide business, government and society with practical tools that help ensure that what they develop and produce is fit for purpose. They help companies to access and boost development of new markets, level the playing field for developing countries and facilitate fair global trade. In essence, ISO Standards embody the essential principles of global openness and transparency, consensus and technical coherence. 

Informed by feedback during and following the aforementioned AAA ISO Leaders Forum, we are currently focusing on exploring the following themes: Assistive Technologies; Planning; Design; Integrated Health & Care; Mobility; Policy; Lifelong Learning; and Sustainability. Involving consultation across the following broad categories: industry and commerce; government; labour; academic and research bodies; non-governmental organizations and critically end-users, older adults in particular.

A global challenge

The United Nations sees population ageing as one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society, including labour and financial markets, the demand for goods and services, (such as housing, transportation and social protection), as well as family structures and intergenerational ties.

Looking beyond the impact of the coronavirus, 2020 is a particularly apposite year to embrace this challenge, as it coincides with the WHO Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020–2030). Proposed by the World Health Organisation as a global collaboration which brings together governments, international organisations, health professionals, academic institutions, the media, private sector and civil society, the project’s primary aim is to promote development of age-friendly environments that foster the abilities of older people.

According to WHO: “Fostering Healthy Ageing requires fundamental shifts – not just in the actions we take, but in how we think and feel towards age and ageing”. As such, an accountability framework capable of measuring progress towards stakeholder and political commitments will underpin this project. This involves establishing a shared understanding of what success will look like; developed through a process of multi-stakeholder engagement, collective dialogue and co-creation.

Our investigation phase is ongoing through October. We have already received many intriguing and inspirational proposals from around the world. If you have an idea for a workpackage, or would like to provide a compelling testimonial, please register your interest, by completing this form.

The last word goes to our inspirational friend Dr Tarsha Finney, Programme Lead, City Design, at the Royal College of Art: “The ambition is to draw a broader stakeholder collective into a conversation about other possible futures for our older selves. We can all be involved in questioning what is possible, what we can share and who we can be together. The future has not yet been written. Collectively we can make a difference.”

Follow this link to learn more about the AAA ISO smart multigenerational neighbourhood standard framework development.