“Conceptual Thinking” is Needed in a Human Approach to Elderly Care
The Royal Commission on the Quality and Safety of Elderly Care has called for an urgent overhaul of Australia’s elderly care system. The director of QUT’s school of design says the focus should be on healthy aging and integrate the fields of health, humanities, economics, arts and design.
Professor Lisa Scharoun is editor and co-author of “Cross-Cultural Design for Healthy Aging” (Intellect Books) which reports on a series of multidisciplinary and cross-cultural workshops involving university students and scholars from Australia, China , from Hong Kong, Taiwan.
Case studies highlight how âconceptual thinkingâ can be part of long-term solutions for better elderly care and taught in pre-admission nursing. The Singapore workshops were followed by a public exhibition and some of the concepts are currently being tested at Nanyang Polytechnic.
âUnited Nations population projections show that many countries, especially those classified as middle and high income, are entering a period where people over 65 may be in the majority,â Professor Scharoun said.
âThe impact of this in Australia and elsewhere will pose great social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for contemporary society. Among other things, a longer lifespan equates to an increased burden on the health care system and housing.
âA ‘one size fits all’ perspective on aging is totally inadequate. Such a major global challenge cannot be approached from the perspective of a single discipline.
âBasically, aging is a social issue and must be considered in the context of sustainable development, which includes social, economic and environmental issues.
Professor Scharoun said the study of human aging is not exclusive to gerontology but should incorporate information from a wide range of fields, including sociology, psychology, public policy, biology, health services , humanities, economics and arts and design disciplines.
âA common perception in the countries we studied is that aging is a process of gradual deterioration,â she said.
âWe focused more on ‘healthy aging’; the importance of working to support and maintain the functional and mental capacities of individuals to enable well-being into old age.
âIt involves thinking about and influencing the design of environments, experiences, products and services that can best enable people to live independent and fulfilling lives into old age.
âWe don’t assume that aging in good health is about eradicating chronic diseases and mobility issues. Instead, it focuses on how we might support and create the conditions to better support people with a variety of complex needs.
âBy engaging in cross-cultural collaboration between students in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan between 2015 and 2018, we discovered that such an approach offers new, innovative ways to examine and respond to needs of the growing aging market. It also fostered empathy and cultural intelligence.
Professor Scharoun said that the 2017 and 2018 âInspired by Singapore: Design for Healthy Agingâ workshops, for example, brought together students in graphic design, industrial design, web design, film, media and nursing.
âWe had 175 students who attended these workshops in major urban centers of Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane,â she said.
âThey worked in partnership with residents of nursing homes, community housing and hospitals across Singapore to co-design projects, services and campaigns that would help age healthy.
âEach team member represented a different discipline and / or culture, which encouraged knowledge sharing and an ‘outside the box’ approach to problem solving.
âStudents were also introduced to artificial disabilities like glasses with blurry lenses or tight gloves and mobility aids like wheelchairs, crutches and walkers to simulate the experience of an elderly person. “
Professor Scharoun said that while designers frequently collaborate across design disciplines and other fields such as business, communication, engineering and the arts, it was less common and more difficult for clinicians to sense that they have a role to play in the design of products, services and systems that promote dignity and improve the quality of life of the users of care.
âAs our workshop process shows, it is very relevant and appropriate that pre-enrolled nurses approaching the end of their undergraduate programs have foundational experiences working collaboratively with design students,â said the Professor Scharoun.
âConceptual thinking is not commonly taught to nursing students, but its approaches are increasingly used to drive innovation in the quality, safety and efficiency of care.
âNursing students are generally much more tuned into a more linear and convergent method of problem-solving, while design students approach problems differently but have limited understanding and experience with health systems. By bringing the two together, we have enabled students to learn from each other.