I recently conducted some research for a university project, looking at the impact of loneliness on older people. I found a crazy statistic that was something like loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is one of many challenges that our ageing society brings to us. In this piece I will be opening up some discussions that need to be had in order for us to more effectively deal with this demographic change.One of the main causes of loneliness is social isolation. There are lots of brilliant projects that are tackling the problem head on. For example, Age UK’s ‘Men in Sheds’, a pilot project that supported older men who want to get together, share and learn new skills – all in the welcoming space of a ‘Shed’. These kinds of projects are crucial in allowing groups of people who may feel left out of society to meet new people and learn new things. There is a real misconception that once you turn a certain age, you lose interest in things. But this isn’t the case.
Society needs to take responsibility and accommodate our ageing demographic, from the ways products are designed to the way in which services are provided. The older market is growing fast and from a business perspective, it is important to really understand this segment. Luckily, many organisations are beginning to do this such as Innocent’s ‘Big Knit’ and the Casserole Club (a fantastic social enterprise).
There are also other projects that are encouraging the younger generations to think about the challenges of ageing, such as Designing for the Future (a project I have been working with for the past 11 months). This is absolutely key, as young people are the future designers and bosses.Designing for the Future is about being all inclusive from the beginning. Instead of adapting products so that they are suitable for older people, they should be designed from the beginning with all potential users in mind. For example, Designing for the Future has produced some amazingly innovative and forward thinking products. Such as a Music Memory Box (Chloe Meineck) that is designed to tackle challenges of dementia.
Educating ourselves on the challenges of ageing and learning new ways to accommodate for these is extremely important. The media is slowly giving light to our ageing population, for example the outrage surrounding ‘Dementia Tax’and BBC’s ‘Protecting our Parents’. We need to develop ways in which families can care for their loved ones, as well as thinking about those that may be socially isolated for various reasons. By considering these issues and providing accordingly, many older people are likely to build confidence and increase their quality of life. This will bring a really positive impact – for everyone.