Intergenerational care, such as combining care for the elderly with nursery schools, has been around for decades in Japan and the United States, yet is relatively new elsewhere. Studies across the world18 suggest that older and younger people doing activities together such as reading, crafting, and gardening, positively changes the way children see and talk about their elders, and increases self-reported health and wellbeing for the elderly. The 'Grandfriends' program involves elderly people and children working in pairs for 45 minutes per week for 12 weeks, in activities such as discussions, crafts, and games. In an Australian evaluation, a group of forty people with an average age of 91, 80% of whom were suffering from cognitive impairment, were randomly assigned to Grandfriends or a control group. Those involved in Grandfriends reported increased engagement and enjoyment.
How many of your friends are much older or younger than you ?
How much interest do you take in the stories, and life experience of those outside your age group?
What clubs or projects help connect people across the generations where you live?
With design in mind
Good design can facilitate a full and engaged life while bad or thoughtless design can inhibit it. This is as true for computer apps as it is for kitchen appliances, or buildings. In the past few decades, designers have been considering how to create products and services that empathically address wellbeing, including the needs and lived experiences of the elderly, and those with disability, but there is still a long way to go. This includes providing free or cheap public transport; having elevators and escalators as an alternative to steps; installing hazard-free surfaces; enlarging the font size on newspapers and documents, signs and packaging; ensuring user-friendly controls on all sorts of technology from TV remotes to iPads; making sure that packages can be opened easily, and installing good lighting everywhere. Innovations with the elderly in mind can also meet the needs of many other groups - inclusive design is good design.
Some innovative designs are aimed at specific populations. For example, the baby seal therapeutic robot PARO can support dementia care by providing some of the benefits of animal therapy. The robot responds as if it is alive, interacting with movement and sound. Similarly, based on the research of Johan Hoorn and his team at the Vrije University, Amsterdam, the emotionally-intel-ligent humanoid 'care-bot', Alice, was designed to help support vulnerable and lonely elders. Given the importance of connecting as an enabler of wellbeing, however, this raises questions about how we tackle social isolation, and whether new technologies are an ethical answer.