It takes a village

As we now spend more of our lives near home, and may well for the foreseeable future, it is essential we understand how well those spaces support healthy and happy lives.

SHAPES – a 4 year €21m research initiative funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 – aims to do just that.

Led by the Assisting Living & Learning Institute at Maynooth University, Ireland, SHAPES will enable EU-wide learning to support our health and social care sectors, while ensuring public spaces fit for all.

Since joining this pioneering initiative last year, we have looked forward to exploring how user led digital solutions can empower older adults, (and now) learning about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives.

SHAPES will unite and expand upon the learnings of local communities and reveal which responses can best lead to built environments that cultivate age-friendly multigenerational environments.

Ian Spero will share more on this essential work in the coming months. You can get up to speed with the ambitions of some of its key players in his latest article, where you can also learn how to join this 'symphony' of collaboration.

A Golden Time

The drive to discover digital solutions to our human needs has inspired our latest collection of stories from the world of ageing.

We begin in Singapore, where digital transformation is high on the governmental agenda to support how people work, live and play.

In this article from Straits Times, Laura Deal Lacey, executive director of Milken Institute Asia, and Theng Yin Leng (both of Nanyang Technological University), argue that now is a golden time to increase awareness and buy-in from older adults in the power of technology.

As a nation, two cultural factors meant Singapore was already well set. Firstly, the primacy of the family unit, where children often support their elders – a relationship which can lead to information sharing, particularly around new technology. And secondly, a common desire to age in place.

Say the authors; “Technological literacy and acceptance have grown exponentially among all parts of society, even among the elderly. These interactions can be key to staving off anxiety and depression, which can be caused by isolation at home”.

The solution is a 'Virtual Village'. Connected, home-based health services that keep older adults away from institutional care and support their wish to age in place.

Telehealth is not new. But the drive to keep older adults out of institutes has increased exponentially this year, making the need to find digital solutions that work essential.

Delivering connected, safe and effective remote health will become the new norm. The race is on to make sure everyone who can benefit, knows too.

More Pepper

‘Remote care’ seems likely to increase too, suggested by the positive results of the latest research around Pepper, the care robot.

The trial took place in a UK care home and was part of a £2.3m research project funded by the European Commission and Japanese government.

It found that; “older adults in care homes who interacted with the robots for up to 18 hours across two weeks had a significant improvement in their mental health. There was a small but positive impact on loneliness severity among users and the system did not increase feelings of loneliness”.

Pepper can store basic information about residents to initiate simple conversations, play music, teach languages, and offer practical help like medication reminders. Its trial here comes at a time when staffing numbers in the care sector are low, along with falling occupancy numbers and rising running costs.

Said Vic Rayner, the executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents charitable care providers; “Robots in social care should not be seen as part of a frightening futuristic vision. They offer key additions to how care is delivered that need to be explored further and understood. Covid-19 has shown us that rather than being a sector which does not understand technology, it is in fact one that is ripe to explore how technology can improve efficiency, support data flow and enhance communication with families and loved ones”.

What stood out in the responses from residents was how they interacted with them. They weren't necessarily against Pepper, but they did want it to be more personalised, more culturally aware, and more capable of richer conversations. Essentially, to be more human.

Game Time

Our next piece seems fitting therefore as it looks at the way in which technology can support human connections, wherever you are, or whoever you are.

Shirley Curry, 84, has just under 1 million fans on YouTube – fellow gamers who regularly tune in to watch her play the blockbuster role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

According to this piece in the NY Times; “She starts every day at her home in southwestern Ohio perched in front of the computer with her camera on, ready to guide her “grandkids” - the term she uses to refer to her more than 900,000 YouTube subscribers - on another journey through the 2011 video game”.

She got into gaming back in 1996 after her son taught her how to play a classic strategy game.

After one of her first posts on YouTube of her playing a game got around 2 million views, fans began posting comments like; “Petition for Grandma Shirley to be classified as a national treasure”.

Now, continues the article, “Ms. Curry is a fixture in the global gamer-influencer world. Alongside her hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers”.

For Shirley though, what it has given her is a community to talk to about her passion. The article adds; “She used to be in a quilting group made up of other people her age. They knew she was a gamer, but she never had an opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of Civilization with anyone before she found YouTube”.

It proves that no matter your interests or age, your community (or your village) is out there.

In other news

We look now at some of the other stories from this month, beginning with Ian Spero’s tribute to a design icon and inspiration to the AAA.

Sir Terence Conran was revered around the world for his commitment to and belief in the power of design to improve the quality of our lives. He passionately believed the designer’s job is “to imagine the world not how it is, but how it should be”. He, his words, and his work will be remembered.

Next, we look at an ongoing series of events run by AARP International around making our built environments a ‘tool for disease prevention and the promotion of wellness for all’. Uniting thought leaders from around the world, the Equity by Design series continues next month and will focus on alleviating the disparities in the standards for residents in low-income and minority communities. You can sign up for all the events from the link above.

Another event on our radar was the upcoming European Online Week of Active & Healthy Ageing, run by Active Assisted Living (AAL) Programme. Taking place between 2-6 November, the event will look ahead to the next 10 years to focus on healthy ageing and demographic change. It promises innovative and varied debates and panels featuring leaders from across Europe. Keep your diary up to date!

And we conclude with this moving piece from a young man named Elliot Dallen. With only weeks to live, Elliot, 29, shared this piece in The Guardian about his reflections on life after being told his cancer could no longer be treated. We’ll finish with his words.

“Most people assume they will live into old age. I have come to see growing old as a privilege. Nobody should lament getting one year older, another grey hair or a wrinkle. Instead, be pleased that you’ve made it. If you feel like you haven’t made the most of your last year, try to use your next one better.”

That’s all for this month. Until the next, stay safe, be sure to follow us on Twitter for more stories like these, and #BeAgile!

Image used with permission: Copyright Nina Strehl on Unsplash.