Longevity Challenge: Redesigning Long Life

November 7, 2013 | Found In:  Healthy Mind

According to AARP, 90% of people over age 65 express a preference to “age in place”, or stay in their own homes as they age rather than move to a care facility or other institution. In many cases, though, cognitive and physical decline can make living independently difficult or even impossible.

The good news is that many of the most talented minds across a variety of industries are dedicated to finding solutions that will enable older adults to live comfortably in their own homes. For example, the Stanford University Center on Longevity recently launched its inaugural Design Challenge, an annual competition aimed at challenging students to develop innovative solutions that improve the lives of older adults. The Center hopes that the Challenge will inspire practical solutions to common aging issues, increase awareness around the needs of our aging population among the younger generation, and provide promising designers with the tools they need to affect real change. This year’s topic focuses on cognitive impairment, a broad term that encompasses detriments in memory, learning, concentration or decision making. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as well as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and developmental disabilities are among a number of conditions that can cause cognitive impairment.

According to the National Alliance of Caregivers (NAC), over one-fourth of caregivers are providing care to a senior with some level of cognitive impairment. While those with mild impairment may still be able to complete daily activities independently, those with more severe levels of impairment often require constant assistance. Finding solutions that increase quality of life for these seniors and for the men and women who tirelessly provide care is one of the most salient health challenges of the 21st century.

While we eagerly await the outcome of the Design Challenge (winners will be announced in the Spring), we want to highlight some existing technologies aimed at improving functioning for adults with cognitive impairment, particularly memory and decision-making deficits:

  • CanPlan: This app breaks down tasks into step-by-step actions, including visual and audio cues, and provides reminders that are meant to keep the individual engaged until a task is completed. The free version supports three tasks at a time and the paid version (14.99 USD) supports unlimited tasks.
  • Plan It, Do It, Check It Off: This organizational app uses 26 pictures of common household chores to create a tailored to-do list (e.g., clean room, garden, exercise, take out garbage). The visual elements can make the planning more engaging for adults with cognitive impairment. This is a paid app that costs 2.99 USD for a one-time download.
  • Elapsed: The Multiple Timer App: This multi-timer app allows users to keep track of multiple tasks and prioritize. The app is a favorite of occupational therapists in that it allows individuals with cognitive impairment to look at one, integrated screen with all activities (e.g., Overdue: Take soup out of microwave; Running: Washer has 20 minutes to go; Paused: Watching video). This is a free app.
  • PhotoMind: This app allows users to snap a photo and then set a reminder and/or alarm to go with it. Users can email reminders to themselves or loved ones and attach the photo, or have the photo set as a recurring reminder for them to complete a given task (e.g., a reminder to “water plants” can be linked to a picture of an individual’s garden). This is a paid app that costs 2.99 USD for a one-time download.


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