Collection No 3

Aging in Place

Building a Foundation for Design

What are the best ways to take care of someone as they age?

In our first post on the subject of “Aging in Place” we explored what it means to grow old and who it impacts the most. We proposed that a deeper understanding of the nuances of aging and caregiving could inform “a network of experience and place.” Applied intelligently, we believe emerging technologies can make significant contributions to the health and welfare of those aging in place while bringing support and relief to those who care for them.

Over the course of the last two weeks our teams have conducted research with subject matter experts, seniors and caregivers to uncover insights about aging in place. To build a strong foundation of understanding we began the research process with five interviews with subject matter experts, covering a broad range of topics: Acute and Specialty Care Nursing, healthcare innovation trends including the quantified self and digital traces, solutions for intergenerational storytelling, and how we can sustain mental agility and resiliency as we age.

The team split into lean research groups and interviewed seniors and caregivers inside their homes. Each participant discussed their health, life and routine with us through an in-depth interview in the comfort of their home. After the interview we were shown what it’s actually like to age in place by going on a guided tour of their dining and living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, gardens and other places they spend their time. Following the interview we introduced a participatory design activity where seniors and caregivers mapped out “A Day In The Life” – visualizing the key moments and activities and explaining the highlights and the low points in a typical day.

Stories From the Field

First-hand accounts of lived experience inform and inspire ideas more than any other kind of “data” byexposing the complexity and nuance of life on which good design solutions thrive. Below are three stories from our research that provide rich context for our next phase of work.

Salvadore and Sophia

Sophia has taken care of her husband Salvadore for the past 23 years of their 50 year marriage. In 1990, a diabetic episode resulting in a fall completely turned their world upside down. Once the provider for the family, Salvadore now struggles to walk through the house, engages in conversation only sporadically, and is often found staring quietly into the distance. Even as Salvadore retreats, Sophia continues to lead an active and inspired life. She spends her days exercising, gardening, cooking for family and friends, and caring for Salvadore. She packages each meal she makes into containers and labels them to go out to doctors, church friends and her children. A devout Catholic, she goes to church each morning as much for the spiritual renewal as for the 15 minutes of social time that follows. Sophia’s days are difficult – she must balance her own vitality against the exhausting task of caring for Salvadore’s failing health and optimism. Even so, she remains positive; “Friction is fun,” she says.


In her late 80s, Blanche recently lost her husband of over 50 years, but through her faith, creativity, and zest for life, she’s persevered. She plays piano, writes poetry on a typewriter, teaches bible study classes, and collects stuffed animals (she has hundreds). Once a week she drives her car to church, calling it “my day out”. Blanche doesn’t suffer from any chronic ailments, nor does she take any prescription medication. “Let your food be your medicine.” she says. She gets about 5 hours of sleep a night because of the pain in her hip when she sleeps on it too long. To manage her pain, she’s customized two reclining chairs in different rooms and a daybed set up in her kitchen so she can catch her shows on the TV that sits on a countertop.


As the eldest daughter, Virginia was the point person for her aging mother’s care options. Her mom began showing signs of dementia soon after her husband’s death, and Virginia learned that their parents had been “covering for each other” – hiding slips in memory from their friends and family, trying to retain a appearance of normalcy for some time. After Virginia realized her mother lost the ability to cook her favorite recipe and her advanced dementia had caused several falls, she called her siblings in to an intervention. They were reluctant to find full-time care and struggled with her increasing confusion and loss of personal faculties. Virginia concentrated on supporting and loving her mother, protecting her from unnecessary arguments and pitfalls as her Alzheimer’s became more advanced. She made the best of her mother’s nursing home experience by duplicating precious family jewelry, making sure she had plenty of books and activities, and bending the truth when it was simply easier to appease her frequent confusion and demands.

Research Outcomes

We’ve analyzed over 200 observations from these and other stories, generating 34 insights about such areas as the self, physical and emotional wellness, social activity, feelings of empowerment, environment, and use of technology. Four key focus areas – our Experience Principles – have emerged. Experience Principles help everyone understand what is core and necessary to deliver on the needs of the users.

1. Identity: Help me stay me. 

As seniors grow older how do we reinforce all aspects of their identity, grow their confidence and support self-actualization? We aim to enable seniors in their ongoing quest to define and share themselves, their values, their je ne sais quois, with others.

2. Sociability: Help me stay engaged.

Local communities are a lifeline. How can we help seniors and caregivers stay active and engaged in their social circles? By supporting their abilities and exposing them to new interests we aim to keep the elderly busy, vital members of society.

3. Routine: Help me stay in control.

Seniors want to retain autonomy in their daily lives and decisions. We aim to help them retain a sense of sovereignty, independence and control by enabling and supporting daily routine.

4. Activity: Help me stay mentally and physically active.

Exercising the mind and body is key to maintaining quality of life and longevity in old age. We aim to influence activity by supporting and enhancing everyday events.

In the next few weeks, our team of industrial and interaction designers, visual designers, and technologists will develop concepts that address the emotional journey for people like Sophia, Salvadore, Blanche, and Virginia. We’ll explore products and services that fit within the unique lifestyles of seniors and caregivers, in hopes that our solutions will enable more graceful transitions for those aging in place.

Write a Comment

Recommended Stories