Products for Elders — Ask Them First

mother, Rich, MartiI’ve written a number of times about 24-7 monitoring services  and personal safety devices. My mother-in-law was supposed to wear one around her neck for — well, 24 hours a day. Except that she didn’t. At first she wore it. Then she took it off with the rest of her jewelry each evening. Then she only wore it when we visited. Finally we cancelled the service, because she found the it was too intrusive.

When it comes to supporting elder parents, so much is about respecting their wishes and not assuming that your good idea is good for them. It’s also about asking what they want and how they wish to be helped.

Paula Span’s article To Reach Seniors, Tech Start-ups Must First Relate to Them describes the predicament well. The October 26, 2015 piece explains how ideas that people have for elder adult products  are often not at all successful and, more importantly, not what people want. She also writes about the preoccupation of many product developers with monitoring seniors — something that seems important to well-meaning adult children but not to that many seniors.      Continue reading

Empowering Through Design: What a Health-Wellness Concept!

We’ve all had experiences trying to accomplish a task that is way too hard — and one reason it’s so difficult is because the environment is not designed to help a person function and work efficiently. Many of us have watched our aging parents grow frustrated, especially in medical settings, where equipment and furniture is overly complex and where even simple things, like light switches, sometimes look like they belong in the complex control panel of an airplane. And it’s not just elders, but patients in general. In the biography by Walter Isaacson, Apple Computer’s Steve Job, then seriously ill and hospitalized, noted that hospital equipment needed dramatic redesigning.

Click on this thumbnail to see a larger picture of the rolling hospital tray mentioned in the Wired article.

To learn more check out Empowering Patients Through Design, a short article at Wired Science reporting on a speech at the Wired Health Conference. The October 15, 2012 article describes Michael Graves’ presentation, explaining how he became a hospital patient and then discovered that he could no longer function efficiently — even in a rehabilitation setting. The medical rooms, equipment, and other materials were poorly designed for people with disabilities.

Graves, a renown architect, found a new calling, combining his professional knowledge with his experience as a patient and becoming a proponent of human centered design. This type of architecture aims to make health care environments, as well as other settings, more comfortable and user-friendly. “I decided that since I was a designer and architect and a patient, I have the credentials to do this,” Graves said at the conference.

In health care human centered design focuses on every part of the patient’s care experience from hospital and patient rooms to floors, light switches, and even signs. Graves and his group have designed hospital furniture that takes the specific needs of patients into consideration.

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Changing the Home in Small Ways for Senior Residents

A grab bar on wall above tub helps a person climb out.

Read Small Changes Enough to Keep Aging Seniors in Home, an April 21, 2011 article in the Kansas City Star.  Reporter Diane Stafford describes how small tweaks and novel ideas can help a seniors remain in a much-loved home. These adjustments range from grab bars and higher toilets in bathroom to throw rug removal in places that are highly traveled. The article also describes some of the services that are available to seniors now, as well as others that may soon be used in the future.

Some time ago a post in this blog, Making Our House Safer for Aging Parents and For Ourselvesdescribed how my family made some basic changes to our house.  At first we tweaked various spots in the house to accommodate our senior parents when they were visiting, but now we find we happily use them ourselves.

Home accommodation demonstration videos are available on YouTube. For instance, the Visiting Nurses Service of New York has posted a series of “How to Help” videos on its website and on a visiting nurses channel on YouTube.

Teens Mentoring Seniors and Mobile Phones

Saw this article, Want to Know What Your Cell Phone Can Do? Ask a Teenager, published in a Reston,Virginia edition.

The article describes how middle and high school students, from schools in the Reston, Virginia area, volunteered to be cell phone tutors with seniors, showing the elders how to use mobile phone features such as texting and checking voice mail. While many of the senior participants attending Cell Phone 101 had purchased phones for safety reasons, most were not able to use many of the other phone capabilities. The student mobile phone mentors demonstrated a variety new ways for the seniors to use their phone, and voicemail tutorials appeared to be especially popular. Students also explained how some of the phone capabilities cost extra money to use.

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A Garden Product for Everyone — But Great for Seniors

My herb garden and crepe myrtle waiting for spring.

Since we’ve been helping our parents with various tasks, we are keenly aware that some products might as well have the words AGING (or aged) etched into them. Since I avidly read posts from the MIT Age LabAgeTek, Laurie Orlov’s Aging in Place Technology Watch, and Eric Dishman, I know that new products aimed exclusively at “old people” are frequently disliked and barely used by seniors.

These days any products aimed at assisting people in some way must also appeal to everyone else. They must be attractive and look good. Now, for the first time, something in my life, never mind my parents lives, has appeared that fits the bill with beautiful design and easy use. It may just help me out.

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