Are smart homes the key to healthy ageing?

It’s time we scrapped the idea of smart homes as the province of the young and digitally savvy. Research shows that smart homes could be the cornerstone of healthy ageing. In fact, smart technologies enable older Australians to live longer, safely, and independently at home and in the community.

Baby boomers such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made technology accessible to everyone. The internet came to market during the 70’s. This availability of computers, laptops, and information at our fingertips means that the majority of baby boomers are technology literate. So whilst considered ‘technology immigrants’, on the whole, this generation embraces technology.

Consequently, there is an unrealised opportunity to market smart home technologies to baby boomers. The boomers have larger purchasing power and higher levels of education than previous generations. They are also fitter, healthier, and more technology literate than their parents or grandparents. And, this generation want to remain in their own homes. Forever. Moreover, they expect to use intuitive and cost-effective technology, particularly if it promotes independence, quality of life and well-being.

As Dr Helen Meese from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers suggests:

“Creating a home which encourages its occupants to stay mobile and active as they age has the potential to keep them both mentally and physically fit for longer.” 

So what does the future hold for smart homes for older Australians?

The New Aged Home

A smart home is:

“a residence that uses internet-connected devices to enable the remote monitoring and management of appliances and systems, such as lighting and heating.” 

However, besides the image of the high tech ‘aware’ home, the wide range of smart home technologies available to support older adults to live at home and remain independent, is largely unknown. From passive and active sensors; monitoring systems to environmental control systems; and electronic aids to daily living – technology has the potential to transform our lives as we age. And let’s not forget Voice-First technology – a multilingual technology with enormous potential. 

Although as Laurie Orlov suggests there are still many questions and much research to be done to understand whether “Voice-First” is more hype than helpful.  

Australia is considered slow in the smart home technology uptake. However, this is predicted to radically change. In fact, the industry is forecast to grow from a $377million industry in 2016 to a $4.7billion industry in 2021. 

What’s the Impact?

Delivering enhanced customer experiences (CX) for business growth is the mantra amongst marketers today. Developers, architects, builders, and renovation specialists have the opportunity to innovate by meeting the needs of the burgeoning baby boomer market with smart home technology. Healthcare providers have the potential to improve the experience of their customers by introducing smart technology such as that available from Feros Care or eHomeCare.

Whilst technology does not replace human contact or reduce loneliness, it can contribute to providing individuals, carers, family, and loved ones with a sense of safety, security, and connection. With health and aged care costs predicted to balloon over the next couple of decades as the population ages, technology, is realistically, a practical part of the solution to reduce those costs.

Given that …

  1. Australia’s population is ageing – already one-third of us are over 50 years old.
  2. The majority of people want to age in their own homes.
  3. Attitudes of older people towards technology are not as stereotypes suggest. They’re surprisingly open to using technology. 

… what assumptions is your organisation making about the ability of older people to utilise and engage with technology? How can you establish a competitive difference or obtain growth by better understanding your current and potential customers?

If you would like to explore these questions and consider how your organisation might deliver products, services, or a better customer experience for the over 50’s, contact us.

Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

5 steps to housing innovation for the over 50’s

I want to stay at home. Forever. In fact, research by Three Sisters Group reveals that people are more afraid of going to a nursing home or a retirement village than dying. So what can architects, property developers, and the construction industry do to reimagine and reshape housing so that we can all remain at home, in our communities, forever?

The Housing Challenge

According to Ben Myers, Executive Director of the Property Council:

“Many existing homes just aren’t suitable for our seniors to ‘age in place’; often they are older, contain trip hazards and very difficult to maintain.”

Given the majority of older Australians are choosing to stay in their own homes, the housing sector clearly has the chance to re-imagine housing. In doing so, it will provide choice and facilitate us all to ‘age in place’. Whether that’s simple renovations, makeovers, or redesigning and re-thinking housing from the ground up.  Already, a number of Australian designers such as Happy Haus, Jigsaw, and Prebuilt have demonstrated innovation in design. These ready-made houses are affordable and attractive.

The next challenge and opportunity is to imagine and co-create affordable, equally clever design to adapt existing homes to accommodate the physical and cognitive difficulties encountered by many older people.

5 Steps to Innovation

Re-designing and re-imagining homes for older people to remain exactly where they are requires creativity and understanding. In fact, understanding the difficulties and desires of older people is key to creating housing that works. We use a co-design methodology to do this. The essential steps to success are:

  1. Research – Communicating with older people and gathering knowledge about their current experience of living at home.
  2. Key Stakeholder Engagement – Engaging all those involved in the design process and gathering their views on housing design for an ageing population.
  3. Co-creation – Bringing older people and designers together to co-create a design brief, prioritising essentials against “nice-to-have’s”.
  4. Co-design – Co-designing workshops provide a “hands-on” environment to imagine, draw, and make models of the possibilities.
  5. Testing – Testing housing design ideas in a virtual reality environment. Older people can “walk through” a home created from ideas generated during the co-design workshop. Doing so provides valuable feedback prior to pursuing the project.

Needless to say, affordability is crucial. Consequently, we can only realise success if the co-designed housing outcomes are reasonably priced. Of course, incorporating off-the-shelf products and technology where possible is essential. Creating a new ready-made product that’s specifically suited to home adaptation for older people is also conceivable.

The Result

Communities will change. And, older people will become woven into the fabric of what makes neighbourhoods great.

And what makes a neighbourhood great?

Lists abound, however, this Heart Foundation guide to ‘Creating Healthy Neighbourhoods’ neatly encapsulates the essentials: great open spaces; ability to walk and cycle; access to public transport; easy access to shops and transport; connected and safe streets; and, spaces where the community can meet – both in the open and in community centres.

The opportunity for Australian architects, designers, and builders to initiate and implement new ideas for housing so that we can stay at home forever is limitless.

Can Australia’s housing industry lead the way on housing for our ageing population? We know it’s possible.

If you’d like to unlock the growth potential for your business of housing for the over 50’s, contact us.

 

Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash

Housing: On the edge of disruption?

It’s a well-known fact that Australia’s population is ageing. We’re living longer and healthier than at any other time in history. And increasingly, we’re choosing to stay in our own homes as we age.  So what does this mean for architects, builders, town planners, and developers? And how big is the opportunity really?

The Facts of the Matter

In 2056 approximately one in four Australians will be 65 years or older. By 2040 it’s predicted that 6.8 million people will be aged over 65 – compared to about half that in 2012 (3.2 million). With such a large number of people over 65, and increasingly living beyond 85, housing needs are a significant issue for us all to consider – governments, businesses, and individuals alike.

There is a view that suggests older people should “downsize” because they inefficiently occupy large homes and should free up housing stock. Whilst a large proportion of older people do have one or two spare rooms (over 40%), they don’t want to “downsize”. According to a report by the Productivity Commission, 76% of Australians 60+ consider their current home as the place they’d like to live out their retirement. ‘Home’ is also an asset that’s considered useful to assist with future difficult financial events.

Addressing the Fear: Nursing Homes

The majority of older Australians do not move to a nursing home or accommodation for the aged with common living and eating facilities. (5% or less of people between 75-84 and less than 30% 85+ move to cared accommodation). In fact, a large percentage of older people live in their own home in major urban areas either with a partner/spouse (61%) or alone (31%).

The Opportunity

Given the increasing size of the ageing population,  and the desire for people to remain at home and in community, there’s an opportunity for architects, builders, town planners, and developers to get creative in housing design and adaptations. Of course, governments, councils, and policy makers also have a role. Australians don’t downsize and government incentives to encourage downsizing is considered pointless. The solutions don’t necessarily lie in downsizing.  The solutions lie in adaptation because for older people:

  • Familiarity of their living environment is important.
  • Neighbourhood is important.
  • Caring for their home matters. It provides purpose and meaning in a day.
  • Community connection matters.

Home is after all home.

The Global Landscape

Examples of redesigned and reimagined housing exist globally. These new models enable people to continue living happily in their own homes and neighbourhoods as they grow older. Some of the ideas also encourage intergenerational living.

Examples include: Germany’s Baugruppe – a ‘group build’ approach for housing complexes involving future residents at both the planning and building stages; Co-housing – an alternative that adapts single-dwelling suburban blocks to accommodate two or three smaller dwellings with some shared spaces; and, the familiar granny flat or laneway housing.

Increasingly, build-to-rent has become an attractive building model as it provides the opportunity for much longer tenure and more control for renters. With private rental housing predicted to become a more dominant share of the housing market in the future, leading developers such as Mirvac are now entering this market.

Collaborate For Success

Redesigning and reimagining the future of housing requires research. Participatory research. Involving conversations with consumers – both younger and older generations alike. These conversations provide insights about consumers’ lives. By talking with people, the housing industry gets the necessary insights to make living at home forever a practical possibility.

The key is incorporating this understanding with design possibilities not imagined or known by the consumer. After all, who thought we’d all want a smartphone? And the classic example from Henry Ford, who didn’t train horses to go faster; he built a car.

What will the housing industry build to change the landscape of living so that we can all stay at home? Forever.

Contact us to unlock the growth potential for your business of housing the over 50s.

Photo by Cindy Tang on Unsplash

intergenerational community

Intergenerational understanding

It’s well known that baby boomers often feel invisible.

Often ignored by marketers, Baby Boomers can also struggle to get jobs as employers consider them “too old”.

The perception tends to be that turning 50 is the start of a slippery slide downhill towards physical or cognitive decline. To being old.

Reality is quite different.

Baby boomers, and beyond, are an active, engaged, experienced, interested, interesting, technologically literate, and wise group of diverse individuals. Despite greying hair, wrinkles, and a slight slowing down, our own research reveals that baby boomers generally feel at least 3 years younger, and often 10-15 years younger than their chronological age.

Recently, I had the privilege of staying with my Aunt in a retirement village. She was thrilled. And because she knows my work is focused on people over 50, and she loves catering, I was treated to a fabulous dinner party with a group of women from their mid-80’s to 92 years old! All independent, active and with a great story to tell.

In my work, I am lucky to meet and talk with a wide range of older men and women. The more people I meet, the more grateful I am to have the privilege of their company and conversation.

The challenge is encouraging organisations, marketers, advertisers, and PR agencies to recognise this valuable cohort of people. Usually, marketing departments and agencies are filled with millennials who “don’t get us”.

The key is to educate, inform, and inspire a new understanding that changes the cultural conversation about becoming older.

It’s a significant segment of Australia’s population comprised of nearly 8 million people!

Time to change

It’s time to change so that ageism and age discrimination don’t remain into the future.

Lifespans are becoming longer.  The desire to remain an active part of the workforce and the community well beyond 50 will only grow. Considering ways to shift entrenched cultural and organisational attitudes and behaviour is key. One way to achieve change is to bring generations together.

Why Intergenerational Understanding

Hollywood did it in a light-hearted way with The Intern. I love this demonstration that shows how bringing younger and older people together to gain understanding – even for a few minutes – completely changes attitudes and perceptions of what “old” is.  NBC Universal introduced a ‘Bring-your-parents-work-day‘ as a way of mixing generations for greater understanding. It enables young people to show off what they do by bringing their parents into their business environment. In a world where parents and children don’t necessarily live in the same town, an extension of this idea could involve simply bringing an older person you know with you to work for that day. And, whilst it is only a day, it does change the age ratios momentarily and provides the opportunity for increased understanding.

The potential for what could be created and the contribution that each could provide the other is vast. At a minimum, it could bring generations together. And that could be the start of a conversation that creates the ripple for change.

Click here to subscribe

5 things worse then dying

5 things more scary than dying 

It’s reasonably well-known that many people fear public speaking more than they fear dying.  However, as we age, a number of other fears enter our consciousness beyond the sense of foreboding, dread, or denial that can occur as we age.

A bonus of ageing is that we commonly celebrate another decade passing.  Whether that celebration involve a party, an adventure, or a quiet dinner at home with a loved one or friends. We’ve lived another 10 years!  However, the celebrations are usually for the life we’ve lived, not the life before us.

Who celebrates a 50th, 60th, 70th or 80th birthday because of what they’ve experienced and because of your enthusiasm for the next decade? Compare this feeling to the experience of celebrating an 18th or 21st.  Generally, these birthdays are celebrated as a milestone because they represent a turning point in our life.  A time when we can look forward to new and exciting experiences and adventures.  What can we possibly look forward to in our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond?  Isn’t this a time when “it’s all downhill from here”?

No.

Well, it doesn’t have to be.

As this well known quote so succinctly states

“If it’s going to be.  It’s up to me.”   

With lifespans longer than at any other time in history, it’s time to re-think how we look forward to, think, and plan for our later years.

5 things scarier than dying

In a recent survey of baby boomers conducted by Three Sisters Group, we discovered that this age group found these 5 things more scary than dying:

1. Physical and/or cognitive decline

2. Nursing homes

3. Retirement villages

4. Loneliness

5. Being like our parents

The question is:  If we’re afraid of these things, what are we doing about it?

The reality is, physical exercise combined with good diet and a healthy lifestyle (not smoking, low alcohol intake) are the two things most likely to make the biggest difference to our lives.  Furthermore, just these two ideas could influence whether or not a nursing home becomes a reality or simply an unfounded fear.

There’s so much to look forward to as we become older.  In fact, one study (1) has shown that our life satisfaction in our 60’s and beyond is equivalent to when we were teenagers!  As a friend shared with me, being physically active and not playing the age card are essential to enjoying our later life.  And Jane Goodall simply doesn’t think about ageing.

Of course planning everything in our life isn’t necessary either.  It’s really about our level of enthusiasm for what we’re doing and what might happen in the future.  I’ll never forget my grandmother telling me that she always carried her passport with her wherever she was in Australia just in case a friend called asking her if she’d like to go overseas with them.

And if you’re wondering … there was a time she spontaneously went on a cruise and asked her friend in Perth to pack her bag for her and she’d meet her in Sydney at the cruise ship (she was in Darwin) .  Unfortunately she did end up in a nursing home – despite her best efforts to live a very full life. At least she maximised her able years to the best of her ability.

 

Source:

(1) Qu, L., & de Vsus, D. (2015). Life satisfaction across life course transitions (Australian Family Trends No.8). Melbourne: Australian Insitute of Family Studies.

 

Click here to subscribe

 

Retirement: Recreation or Re-creation?

Around 500,000 Australians will retire this year. What are you looking forward to in retirement? Maybe some travel? Catching up on reading all those books you always planned to get through? More time on the golf course?

With lifespans longer than at any other time in history, the reality is, if we retire at 65, or even earlier at 55 or 60, travel, reading, and leisure doesn’t necessarily sustain us for a healthy, happy later life of up to 20+ years.

Recreation plays a big part in the hopes and dreams of the pre-retired. However, the aftermath of an extended European vacation or a move to the countryside, can present retirees with a host of new emotional challenges they hadn’t anticipated.

 

Post-retirement blues?

The unexpected loss of purpose that can strike retirees is often a challenge. The euphoria of the daily grind of work now replaced with the lack of stimulation, interaction with colleagues – of all ages, and relatively mundane routine with friends of the same age or older. A sense of emptiness that can ensue as a result of being an empty nester and simply remaining at home with you and your partner can be both confronting and testing.

Those who choose a sea change, tree change or downsize from a house to an apartment, or move to over 55’s living or a retirement village, have a new set of challenges associated with becoming established in a new community as this couple discovered.

So what’s retirement then if not travel, relaxation, and not working (yay!)?

Retirement is more than recreation.  It’s a time for re-creation.

 

The Third Phase

Whether lonely or bored or neither, retirement is a time for recreating ourselves and maximising this Third Phase of life.

Volunteering and being involved with community activities are essential for healthy ageing, as is physical exercise and healthy eating. Expanding existing interests such as joining a book club (from being a casual book-reader) and resurrecting past hobbies (I’m finally going to restore that old bike that’s been sitting in the garage…and go riding again) are a great place to start. However, discovering new interests (I’m going to take up French lessons), hobbies (tai-chi, University of the 3rd Age, piano playing, dancing), and even re-training (go back to uni as this 93-year-old did, or qualify as a personal trainer or yoga teacher) are all possibilities for our re-creation.

 

Re-creation & dementia

Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in older Australians (aged 65 years or older)[1]. Throwing yourself into completely new hobbies, interests, and learning not only keeps you busy, but by forcing the brain to learn new things, it staves off cognitive decline. It is imperative that a concerted effort be made to keep the brain stimulated with active learning and ‘doing’, otherwise we raise our likelihood of becoming part of the dementia epidemic.

So … with potentially 20 or 30 years (or more) of life to live after retirement, how will you re-create yourself when you retire? What are your plans?

Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

 

This article is part of a series by Three Sisters Group on changing attitudes to marketing to the over-50s. It calls attention to the need to challenge our stereotypes about getting older and seeks to build understanding about how attitudes to ageing impact all aspects of our lives – from research, to workplace practices, marketing activity, community services, planning and housing.

[1] 1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2012) Dementia in Australia.

 
Click here to subscribe

Forget Generation X, Y, Z, and Baby Boomers

Generational labels that divide.

Population divisions based on the year we are born.

What if we removed the labels and simply met each other as people, with a variety of wants, needs and challenges that span age?

What would happen to the smashed avocado debate then?

Read more

Shades of white

White is white.

Until you try to choose white paint.

If you’ve ever tried to choose white paint you’ll know just how tricky it is to choose the shade of white you’d like to paint a room or a house.

Ageing is the same.  Here’s why.

Read more

Retirement living. Doing it differently.

Inspired by a program on housing for the older population that appeared on an SBS Insight program, I contacted two of the participants who had talked about the retirement community they had created with four other long term friends. It’s a remarkable story.

Read more

I’ve had a reality check. Here it is …

I’m getting older. I know that. I’ve said for a long time that I plan to see 100 and beyond. And, I’m determined to age well. Age healthily. Age happily. Age productively. In community with like-minded people. I eschew the idea of a retirement village or nursing home. That’s not for me. I don’t do bingo. Have no interest in bingo. And group excursions or group events? I’ve never been a good groupie which is probably one of the reasons I won’t do cruises. I don’t like the idea of being told when to eat, what to eat or where to eat. However, there’s a ‘but’. Here it is …

Read more