A recent presentation, The Future of Aging, a collaboration between Pivot Design Group, Saint Elizabeth Health Services and Bridgepoint Health Services, provided an opportunity to hear from the people who are transforming the way we design, deliver and experience healthcare.

According to the World Health Organization, globally, people are living longer than ever, thanks to modern medicine. For the first time in Canadian census history, there are more people aged 65 and older than there are 14 and younger. By 2036, one in four Canadians will be a senior citizen. And yet, the Canadian Medical Association reports a healthcare system that thoroughly fails its senior citizens in effective care and costs. Aging is a natural process of life. The problem isn’t that we are getting older; rather, the problem is that our systems are ill-equipped to deal with an aging population shift and the breadth of emerging issues that come along with it.

Ian Chalmers, founder and creative director of Pivot Design Group, opened with a purpose-driven message – we are coming together to “design” an inclusive system of health, in the literal sense of the word. Dr. Zayna Khayat, future strategist at St. Elizabeth Health Care, then introduced the topic for the evening, declaring, “The future of health is the future of aging.”

Both were adamant about the necessary perspective shift of aging; we must move away from talking about elder care in the context of economic burden, and enable older adults to decide their own futures and do what they value as they age.

Six panelists were given five minutes and five slides to present their work and initiatives related to the future of aging. All came from cross-sectors in health, design, and aging – urban planning, population health, health research, human factors, technology, user design and public policy. While their work differs from one another’s, they share the common themes of using a methodical design approach to shift systems, co-designing with older adults and committing to implementation and action beyond creativity.

First up was Guillermo ‘Gil’ Peñalosa, 8 80 Cities Project director.

“We’ve learned how to survive, but how do we want to live?” he asked the crowd. The 8 80 Cities framework for healthy urban design is the belief that if everything we do in our cities is great for an eight year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people.

Bobbie Carefoot, Bridgepoint Hospital Population Health Solutions Lab project lead, followed up with the importance of building community for older adults, through the co-creation of solutions. The dangers of social isolation in senior communities are pervasive and, through her team’s Neighbours Helping Neighbours initiative, they are designing care using empathy, co-creation, and social tools to create a mindset shift for both seniors and their caregivers.

Athina Santaguida, of Healthcare Human Factors at the University Health Network, shared her team’s rigorous, methodical approach to designing for older adults. By applying the human factors perspective, they worked to design a system of elderly independence that allows them to thrive outside a long-term care facility, but still give the independent caregivers in their ecosystem the necessary support tools.

“All the world’s a lab,” said Dr. Lora Appel, of Open Lab. “We need only to look around for problems we can begin to solve, but with that comes the need to focus on context and implementation.”

Her team experiments with virtual reality as a possible healing tool for older patients experiencing disability as a way to determine which environments will enable them to age in place and as an aid to help them connect with their caregivers through story sharing.

Dr. Cosmin Munteau, University of Toronto Mississauga professor, shared his team’s work to reduce older adults’ digital marginalisation. Because we often exclude older adults during the design process, we are unaware of their concerns and create products that do not align with their needs. By re-centering older users in tech, we can create tools that are truly purposeful and functional.

So, when all is said, what can be done?

The final speaker, Andrea Austen, Toronto Seniors Strategy policy lead, wrapped up the session with a message alluded to throughout the evening: the need for action.

She designs municipal policy to create a sustainable future for older adults and says there is a still long way to go in making public services accessible to seniors due to the lack of inter-agency coordination and the lack of innovation in government. Integrative services between government and community are key to truly successful policy implementation, especially for further marginalised populations within the older adult community.