Skip Navigation

The Future of Aging

How do we want to age? Designing a healthcare system that supports aging in Canada.
June 26, 2018
9:00 PM - 12:00 AM
Bridgepoint Health
“Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged, is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer”, writes physician Atul Gawande in Being Mortal, a critique of our societal and medical approach to aging and the end-of-life.

Although Gawande’s discussion is more closely associated to end-of-life care and dying with dignity, he puts forth a compelling argument with regards to the way we consider and paternalize aging. According to the WHO, people globally are living longer than we ever have, with thanks to modern medicine. For the first time in Canadian census history, there are more people aged 65 and older than there are 14 and younger. By 2036, 1 in 4 Canadians will be a senior citizen. And yet, the Canadian Medical Association reports a healthcare system that thoroughly fails its senior citizens in effective care and costs. Aging is a natural process of life. The problem isn’t that we are getting older, rather, the problem is that our systems are ill-equipped to deal with an aging population shift and the breadth of emerging issues that come along with it.

With Canada – and moreover, the world’s – growing population of older adults, the urgency of innovation and improvement in the field of aging is more pressing than ever. As designers, how do we design with the intention of living well beyond mere survival as we get older? How can we combat ageism and isolation with inclusive design practice? Above all else, how do we be human-centered in (re-)designing our aging – pun intended – systems?

In its eighth year of their Design Meets series, Pivot Design Group, in partnership with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Bridgepoint Health Services, hosted another successful event on June 28th dedicated to creating spaces for forward-thinking designers to brainstorm and collaborate on transforming the aging and healthcare sector.

Pivot's Ian and Torey chat with Cosmin Munteau, who later spoke about his team’s work to reduce older adults’ digital marginalisation.
Pivot's Ian and Torey chat with Cosmin Munteau, who later spoke about his team’s work to reduce older adults’ digital marginalisation.

The Pivot team ensured the evening was engaging by facilitating a collaborative conversation in which attendees could answer prompts that zeroed in on the human-centered aspects of designing for aging. With questions such as, “How would you like your aging experience to be different than the current experience?” and “How might we enable seniors to create and maintain meaningful connections and networks?”, participants were encouraged to reflect on their own attitudes towards aging and apply empathy to their design thinking. The venue was situated on the rooftop patio of Bridgepoint Active Health, with a vantage point of Toronto’s skyline that served as a reminder of a city in the forefront of our minds as we approach this critical question to consider a more livable and sustainable environment for our aging populace.

Ian Chalmers, Founder and Creative Director of Pivot Design Group, opened up remarks with a purpose-driven message – we are coming together to “design” an inclusive system of health, in the literal sense of the word. Dr. Zayna Khayat, Future Strategist at St. Elizabeth Health Care, then took the floor to introduce the topic for the evening. The future of health is the future of aging, she declared. Both were adamant about the necessary perspective shift of aging; we must move away from talking about elder care in the context of economic burden, and enable older adults to decide their own futures and do what they value as they age.

Spent a wonderful evening with fellow designers and Klicksters at @BridgepointTO exploring participatory design for the future of aging. Not only should we design for users, but we should also design WITH users. #DesignMeets @pivoting @UHNOpenLab @klickhealth

— Cheryl Tsui (@cheryltswee) June 27, 2018

Panelists were given five minutes and five slides to present their work and initiatives related to the future of aging. All six panelists came from cross-sectors in health, design, and aging – urban planning, population health, health research, human factors, technology, user design, and public policy. While their work differed from one another’s, they all shared common themes of using a methodical design approach to shift systems, co-designing with older adults, and committing to implementation and action beyond creativity.

First to present was Guillermo “Gil” Peñalosa, Director of the 8 80 Cities Project. He asks the audience, “We’ve learned how to survive, but how do we want to live?” With 8 80 Cities, he provides a framework for healthy city design – let’s make cities vibrant and livable for both an eight year old and an 80 year old.

Bobbie Carefoot, Project Lead with the Population Health Solutions Lab at Bridgepoint Hospital, followed up with the importance of building community for older adults, through the co-creation of solutions. The dangers of social isolation in senior communities are pervasive, and through her team’s Neighbours Helping Neighbours initiative, they are designing care using empathy, co-creation, and social tools to create a mindset shift for both seniors and their caregivers.

Next up was Athina Santaguida from Healthcare Human Factors at UHN, sharing the team’s rigorous, methodical approach to designing for older adults. By applying the human factors perspective, they worked to design a system of elderly independence that allows them to thrive outside a long-term care facility, but still give the independent caregivers in their ecosystem the necessary support tools.

All the world’s a lab – we need only to look around for problems we can begin to solve, but with that comes the need to focus on context and implementation. This was Dr. Lora Appel’s description of her research approach at Open Lab, as her team experiments with virtual reality as a possible healing tool for older patients experiencing disability, as a way to determine which environments will enable them to age in place, and as an aid to help them connect with their caregivers through story sharing.

Fellow academic Dr. Cosmin Munteau, a professor with the Institute for Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, shared his team’s work to reduce older adults’ digital marginalisation. Because we often exclude older adults during the design process, we are unaware of their concerns and create products that do not align with their needs. By re-centering older users in tech, we can create tools that are truly purposeful and functional.

Cosmin Munteanu @TAG_lab 3 step approach to UX for seniors - contextual inquiry (understanding users), participatory design (engage seniors thru user-centred process) and usability testing. Together produce designs that more closely match older adults' mental models. #designmeets

— Michael Li (@MichaelHGLi) June 26, 2018

So, when all is said, what can be done? Andrea Austen, the final speaker, tied up the session with a message alluded to throughout the night: the need for action. As a Policy Lead with Toronto Seniors Strategy, she designs municipal policy to create a sustainable future for older adults. She reports that 90 of 91 recommendations first put forth by the strategy have been fully or partially implemented by the City, but acknowledges there is a still long way to go in making public services accessible to seniors due to the lack of inter-agency coordination, and the lack of innovation in government. Integrative services between government and community are key to truly successful policy implementation, especially for further marginalised populations within the older adult community.

Staying true to the event’s ethos of community and participation by Design Meets attendees, participants were welcome to the floor to voice a challenge or idea during Open Mic. Arlene, an older adult at the event who has been involved in directing the design process with St. Elizabeth’s aging initiatives, challenged the audience to “design with seniors, and not just for seniors”. The importance of autonomy cannot be ignored in the way older adults receive and experience care, driving home the point of designing with and for the user.

June Chalmers posing a question to the panelists.

The panelists were compelling and methodical in their approach to effective design for aging. Sara Yong, a Designer with Pivot, recalls Gil’s 880 Cities project as one that particularly stood out to her call to action as a creator.

“We design for the average, and we leave out those at the ‘ends’, so to speak. But if we design for the extremes, we capture the people in between.”

As interdisciplinary change makers, innovation must come hand-in-hand with implementation for the future of aging. The movement to include older participants in the design process is growing and must continue to evolve, in order to create and implement systems that are empathy-driven and allow older adults the opportunity to thrive. Through co-design practice, we can engage in design that is not for the sake of creativity alone and research that is not for the sake of knowledge without action. In the same way that aging is a natural progression, our design processes should adapt and follow suit.

Great group and energy tonight over at #DesignMeets #FutureOfAging #seniors reconnecting w/ happy smiling 😁 past, present friends and collaborators like @amaybee @PatientAdvisors @Lora_Appel @realHayman Cosmin @TAG_lab @K_Tucker13 - new friends w/ @pivoting @designmeets crew 👏

— RB33 (@rb33canada) June 27, 2018

Thank you to our partners Bridgepoint Hospital’s Population Health Solutions Lab and Saint Elizabeth Health Care for all of their support and hard work in making this event a possibility.

And a big thank you to Eric Harry, from Calm Radio, for playing some wonderful music on the piano for our guests during the event.

Watch the event from Saint Elizabeth’s Periscope recording here.

Recap written by Katrina Kaman Chiu