AAA™ – In the News September 2019 - Together We Stand

As the returning sunshine unites communities in public spaces across the country, it seems fitting that Ian Spero's latest article argues for greater provision of multi-generational living.

Citing diverse research on why we need more ways to live closer together, including the fact that loneliness can be as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it proposes a system-wide rethink on using public health investment funds to better unite communities.

With a report from think tank UAA claiming that children who regularly mix with older people see improved language development, reading and social skills, it would help reverse a trend of individuals of all ages now feeling strangely alone in today’s connected world.

This is the theme in September’s AAA news review, featuring purposeful exercise, ageing apps, fashion and more.

Cheer Up

We begin with a podcast run by former Labour leader Ed Miliband and broadcaster Geoff Lloyd.

In this edition of Reasons to Be Cheerful, they interview two inspirational people who started organisations to bridge divides between communities, in particular between younger and older adults.

After meeting a man who hadn't left his house in three months, Alex Smith founded Cares Family to connect young and older people socially.

Founded on the principle there are older adults with deep roots in communities but no connections socially, and younger people with large social networks but no connections in their communities, there should be a way of bringing these people together to end isolation.

Then we meet Ivo Gormley, who set up Good Gym to find an alternative way to stay fit. Having also met isolated people in his community, Ivo hit upon the idea of creating workouts using manual labour for the good of the public. Good Gym now has 15,000 'runners' across the country - people doing weekly or monthly tasks to get fit while helping others.

Listen to Ivo and Alex talk about how they grew their communities, but what unites the two is a recognition of the fundamental need for connections across social divides and the work you need to put in to make them happen. As one of their beneficiaries interviewed later says, 'more power to their elbow'.

Face the Music

With one motivator for these initiatives being to end ignorance about ageing, our next piece uses the attention around new ageing app 'FaceApp' to highlight how younger people feel about ageing.

Journalist Caitlin Kelly believes that the app, which allows you to scan your face and see how you will look when you're older, has proven how we really feel about this inevitable human process – ie. fearful.

What you will look like as you age is just the tip of the iceberg, argues Caitlin. In her own words; “You just can't imagine old age. You have to live it first-hand”. This is because, she continues, “it is as much a psychological transition than an aesthetic one”.

One reason ageing remains a mystery to most younger people is because they rarely see it depicted in a realistic way. “Not in movies. Not on Netflix. Not in advertising, unless it's for medication or funeral insurance”.

What's more, in today's mobile age few younger people even live near older adults, never mind their own family, so assume they have little in common. That is patently not true, as we just saw in the podcast just discussed. One of the first thing volunteers notice when they meet older adults is how much they have in common.

What apps like this may do however is begin a conversation about ageing, which is often half the battle. Silence won’t help anyone, which is why we’ll keep shouting from the rooftops - we need to talk about ageing!

Professor’s Plans

That was certainly our next article's focus, but this time from a policy perspective.

Following the World Health Organisation's movement on age-friendly cities, Professor Meghan Joy had noticed - as she helped her older neighbour in Toronto struggle to manage daily chores - that cities don't operate with older people in mind.

They're built for working age people and tend to see older adults as a 'throwaway' population.

Said Professor Joy; “It's coming from this subtle undertone of you having to prove your human worth”.

After speaking to older adults and actors in local government, transport and housing, activists and non-profit organisations, she concluded that urban planning needed to address access – simple things like routes to grocery stores, community centres or the library being free from obstruction.

It should also consider how to better help older adults with everyday activities like changing a lightbulb, or taking out the trash, with computer literacy programs and checking up on people in extreme weather conditions.

Although there is some progress being made, it's not happening quickly enough says Meghan. We need to coordinate those who are acting and change how we think about ageing, otherwise more will continue to struggle like her neighbour. And most won't have someone like her nearby who is happy to help every day. Unless however, they happened to live in a house specifically built for multiple generations?

And Finally

We round up the rest of the best articles from this month, kicking off with this piece in DesignBoom about IKEA's partnership with a construction company and Queen Silvia of Sweden to build homes adjusted for people living with dementia.

The homes (example above) include therapeutic gardens, kitchens with old fashioned knobs to improve accessibility, and gardens and clubhouses to encourage socializing and time spent outdoors.

It's still early days, but in addition to IKEA’s new drive toward sustainability, it's good to see they're thinking as much about people as they do about products.

Next we look at this blog for The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, by Jeremy Myerson - Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design at the Royal College of Art.

In it he observes how the world of fashion is finally coming around to the idea of designing with older people in mind. He uses the example of being unable to find a single young fashion designer from the Royal College of Art to take on a commission for wheelchair users, just a few years ago.

Now with many fashion houses making older stars the face of their campaigns - Joni Mitchell becoming the face of Yves Saint Laurent in her 70s being a notable example - the tide is turning.

We conclude with the latest edition from Catalyst magazine, which asks why, in a world where older consumers are diverse, vibrant and (in many cases) wealthy, are they still woefully underserved?

Citing examples from fashion, business and advertising, they argue that older adults are increasingly fit, connected and working into their late 60s so have more disposable income than previous generations.

But as this happens, we still see images of older people settling into retirement, content but essentially doing nothing, and just living as 'docile retirees'. As they say, it's time to cut the clichés. Today, we live in an age of agelessness.

That’s it for this month, until the next be sure to follow us on twitter and #StayAgile!

Image by IKEA / BOKLOK