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Workshop Uses Design Thinking to Develop Solutions for Desirable Aging Experience
A recent daylong workshop—“Design-Thinking for Community-Supported Senior Care,” organized by the Syracuse University Aging Studies Institute and the School of Design in the College of Visual and Performing Arts—brought together interested individuals from across the University and the Central New York community to address a growing concern: As professional caregiver resources continue to dwindle, how can we meet the needs of seniors, especially single seniors living alone?
“In the U.S., the professional caregiver shortage is worsening as the number of single seniors, living alone without local family, rises. This is going to affect individuals and the healthcare system in ways that most Gen X and younger Baby Boomers haven’t anticipated,” says Dianna Miller, assistant professor of industrial and interaction design in the School of Design. Miller put together the event, held at the Aging Studies Institute in Lyman Hall, along with Mindy Stewart-Coffee, chief operating officer of Kansas City-based Integrity Home Care and Hospice.
“Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population over 70 has too many assets to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford assisted care for activities of daily living,” Stewart-Coffee says. “The healthcare and insurance industries call this group the ‘70 percent in the middle.’”
Miller adds, “Mindy and I discovered that we hold the same assumption: solutions will have to come from communities themselves, beyond the regulated industry. The question is, how best to empower people to help themselves in sustainable ways?”
Until recently, the larger design world has stayed away from the issue of senior care because industries like the tech sector didn’t see a value to funding it. This is changing as the health and wellness care sectors embrace practices like Design Thinking and Service Design. Industry experts have framed the problems associated with aging-in-place well, but there is still a need for quality-of-life solutions, the workshop organizers state. It is in this gap that the greatest opportunities lay. If the institutional resource gap cannot be resolved, then is a community-based approach possible?
The workshop drew 35 participants, including graduate students and faculty from the Maxwell School, Falk College and the School of Design. Stewart-Coffee and Wendy Goidel, principal of the Long Island-based law firm Goidel Law Group, provided an assessment of current solutions and case studies from the field to inform the group’s thinking, and the participants applied a process of problem-framing, ideation, prototyping and testing employed by design and innovation teams.
“All of the insights and ideas we generated during the workshop were collected so we can carry these forward into our own initiatives,” Miller says. “And several attendees have expressed interest in forming a social media group to keep the conversation going.
“One of the greatest outcomes was simply meeting like-minded people from across campus and the community who are actively invested in working on this issue. We’ll need to work across disciplines with one another to create viable solutions.”