Following Ian Spero’s address to the All-Parliamentary Group (AAPG) on Housing For Older People and two high octane days at NatWest HQ, with over 400 passionate AAA activists, we enter our 6th year of shaking things up for our ageing society, filled with hope.
Hope that we can capitalise on all the hard work being done across the board to reimagine housing and care for older adults. To share the learnings of councils and universities across the country already making progress, and encourage further private sector engagement such as Regent Regeneration who spoke enthusiastically about establishing the UK’s first Neighbourhood of the Future in time for Coventry's tenure as the UK City of Culture in 2022. Or Legal & General who continue to rethink the way an institution can support the needs of an ageing population.
Before you do, take a moment to catch up with this month’s best news stories from the world of ageing, including why we should slow down, the forgotten middle and the importance of intergenerational friendships.
Sometimes, it seems that people talk about older adults as if they exist in a parallel universe to everyone else. Perhaps they do, which is part of the problem.
So, this piece from the Conversation was of interest as it argued that instead of trying to speed everything up when building ‘smart cities’, planners should be working to slow things down. Not just to benefit older members of the community, but everyone.
Like the slow food and slow reading movements, designed to promote the benefits of properly engaging with what you're doing, 'slow cities’ would do the same, according to author Lakshmi Priya Rajendran. They would “focus on providing green space, accessible infrastructure and internet connectivity, promoting renewable energy and sustainable transport, and being welcoming and friendly to all”.
They would use technology available to us now to “create platforms for citizens to immerse themselves and engage meaningfully in different experiences within the urban environment”.
For example, technology-based installations could give us the history of wherever we are to increase understanding of time and place, while AI and machine learning can tell planners more about how humans interact with the city to feed into future developments.
This kind of thinking really resonates with us because it's about planners taking the need for proper community interaction and information sharing to increase awareness of our surroundings. The more we know about where we live and the people we share it with the more we care about it. We live in a mobile and connected age, so if we don't legislate for community then isolation and alienation will only increase. Let's be smart, let’s slow down.
Live Long, Stay Young
Once you have slowed down, you can properly enjoy long reads, the perfect antidote to quick fix news. This great article in the New York Times is worth considered attention as it looks at the ways different researchers are trying to fathom a response to the extra 30 years’ we've created for ourselves.
Author Adam Gopnik speaks to people like Joseph Coughlin, whose work at AgeLab, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed that making products for older people was a “good way to go out of business”.
Writes Adam, “Old people will not buy anything that reminds them that they are old. The AgeLab has rediscovered the eternal truth that identity matters to us far more than utility. The most effective way of comforting the aged, the researchers there find, is through a kind of comical convergence of products designed by and supposedly for impatient millennials, which secretly better suit the needs of irascible boomers. The best hearing aids look the most like earbuds. The most effective personal emergency response device is an iPhone or an Apple Watch app”.
The article’s well worth a read as he also speaks to researchers trying to help animals live longer and better as they age, in the hope it will do the same for us, and others seeking solutions to address dementia through in-depth brain analysis.
But as the results of this research are some years off, then AgeLab's work offers us the most useful research today.
Joseph Coughlin on housing: “We have a belief that we send out our elderly to institutions. The fact of the matter is that less than ten per cent of the elderly go into nursing homes or assisted living. The senior-housing industry is building inventory meant for seniors, but eighty-seven per cent of retirement-age people want to stay in the same home where they have the three ‘M’s: marriage, mortgage, and memories. The problem is that they can’t. Not when the model is a two-story house with a bedroom and the bathroom upstairs. If we can solve the stairs problem, we won’t need new housing”.
If you’ve already read Ian’s summaries of our latest Congress, you’ll know such practicalities were high on the agenda, much like how older adults pay for them. Which leads us onto our next piece…
The Forgotten Middle
Funding your later life was the subject of this article from US research foundation HealthAffairs, which studied the effect of income on accessing suitable care for 'tomorrow's seniors'.
Arguing for more options for middle income boomers in the US – the forgotten middle ad they call it – the research asks; “how will future middle-income seniors, who do not qualify for Medicaid and may have fewer family caregivers, access housing and care services?”
As the ‘first study to project housing and functional health care needs of seniors by income group’ it states that; "With the aging baby-boom generation, the US will experience a significant increase in the number of middle-income seniors ages seventy-five and older by 2029. This group will face a very different set of challenges relative to today’s middle-income seniors”.
Solutions, the report suggests, are cheaper ways to access housing and care – made possible by reduced expectations from the private-sector on expected returns – potentially more basic provisions, better use of technology, tax incentives to operators and developers, and better sharing of initiatives such as qualified on-site health providers.
This report echoes themes we are seeing globally. Ageing population, increasing pressure on family care givers, desire to age at home rather than institutions and increasing age related health conditions placing strain on government run health services. Governments can’t avoid these issues forever…
With so much covered so far, we now take a quick look at the other great stories from this month, starting with this piece in Forbes introducing a new app which uses eye tracking technology to detect Alzheimer’s, before the onset of symptoms.
According Elli Kaplan Co-Founder and CEO of Neurotrack, “…we’re not treating Alzheimer’s post-diagnosis. With our technology, we’re aiming for vascular health today to protect tomorrow’s brains from the mixed pathologies that are so often the hallmark of Alzheimer’s”.
She likens it to cyclists wearing a helmet – rather than treating the issue after it’s too late, why not work to reduce the risk early? We look forward to seeing more tech like this.
Then we have another piece of tech looking to help older adults, this time through the art of storytelling. This article in Design Week introduced a new AI tool from Accenture that “asks lonely, older people to recall memories from their lives, which are then transformed into a written and audio biography they can pass on to their children”.
With research suggesting around 1.5 million people over 50 in the UK feeling lonely on a regular basis, Accenture hopes to give users a way to hold as natural a conversation as possible based on questions and learning from answers to create a story for humans to use or the tool can do itself. Obviously, this doesn’t solve loneliness itself, but voice technology is clearly here to stay.
And finally, we look at this piece in the Irish Times about intergenerational friendships. It talks about Irish research published in the Journal of Ageing Studies that looked to “better understand their role in how older people experience old age and friendship at that time of life”… to “support a broader, more diverse, conversation around the experience of old age and friendship in older age”. A lovely, uplifting piece to end this month’s AAA news.
That’s all for this month, until next month be sure to follow us on Twitter, look out for further outcomes from our Congress, and #StayAgile!
AAA Congress 2019 image by Jane Petrie