Experts Envision Future of Aging at Accelerate Think Tank

November 9, 2018

A woman points to a board during a workshop

Participants discussed potential opportunities and solutions for aging-related problems

You are celebrating your 100th birthday in a small eco-sustainable community called SansAge (“ageless” in French). You are riding in the monorail that loops SansAge to the main gathering room where four generations of family and neighbors will greet you. You pass windmills, farming plots, and your 75-year-old daughter biking to your party. You feel incredibly optimistic and lucky. Your 83-year-old mother died alone in a nursing home with only her family around her. My, how things have changed in 30 years.

That’s one of eight scenarios presented during the Future of Aging Think Tank, a day-long workshop to envision and co-create a new tomorrow. Others included a traveling time machine on wheels where people of all ages gather to tell their stories of living in the past and imagine what the future might hold, and an application called companion that matched helpers with older people who need support running errands or just someone to talk to over a cup of coffee.

The Nov. 3 gathering, co-hosted by Wentworth and Boston University, was initiated by Wentworth’s Associate Vice President of Innovation + Entrepreneurship Monique Fuchs. It convened 70 experts from across disciplines—architects, product managers, entrepreneurs, aging advocates, government officials, futurists, doctors, senior living administrators, students, and faculty—to break down traditional barriers, re-frame possibilities, and co-design innovative solutions through human-centered design.

AARP Chief Medical Officer Charlotte Yee made a case for making the three Ps – purpose, possibility, and people – part of aging. She cited research in which people with the strongest sense of purpose have 40 percent lower health costs. Those with optimistic and positive perceptions of aging are likely to live 7.5 years longer and those with five or more friends live eight years longer.

“We need to stop designing for old and start designing for all,” said Yee. “I challenge you to design for joy, beauty, and connection.”

“For the first time in the history of the country, we have more people who are old versus young with those 60 years and older outnumbering those who are 20 years and younger,” noted Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs Chief of Staff Robin Lipson, who shared data from a survey that found that older adults are chiefly concerned about transportation, housing, finances, and isolation.

Facilitators worked with participants across disciplines to explore a range of ideas that were considered preposterous to possible. Teams narrowed things down to one idea and fleshed it out with a “low fidelity” prototype using everything from pipe cleaners to coffee filters. Teams had five minutes to present their ideas.

Misha Kharitonov, BSCO '20, was among those who donned weight vests, canes, wheelchairs, resistance bands, and goggles designed to limit vision, and then complete everyday tasks to better understand what it feels like to be an advanced age.

Twenty Wentworth faculty and students attended the event and contributed to the teams. Delson Dasilva, a senior mechanical engineering student at Wentworth, came to the event on a Saturday because he’s been thinking a lot about how he can help his mother better manage her information technology.

“I think she gets embarrassed about having to ask me over and over again about the functionality on her smartphone. She might be more receptive to a peer helping her, and I’d like to explore a solution to meet her need,” Dasilva said.

Participants left with a new way of thinking about aging, some exciting long-term ideas for change, new techniques to derive innovative solutions, and an expanded network of like-minded people.

“I’m convinced that new and innovative framing of issues, such as aging, and new ideas for solutions are going to come when people cross over traditional boundaries, and co-create solutions,” said Fuchs.

Accelerate, Wentworth Innovation + Entrepreneurship Center drives thought partnerships, interdisciplinary engagement, and out-of-the-box ideas among students, alumni, industry and the Boston community. Launched within only four weeks in May 2012 to date over 5, 492 participants have engaged with Accelerate programs. A photo gallery from the event can be found at Accelerate's Facebook page. 

--Michelle Davis

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