How can public space be designed to optimise participation and foster a sense of security for older adults? How can attitudes be changed, autonomy increased, and well-being promoted through design?
A rethink of the current design of care and service providers, transportation, public spaces and workplaces is one of the potential answers, according to RMIT Europe Executive Director Dr Marta Fernandez.
Fernandez, who recently took part in the second World Health Organisation Global Forum on Innovation for Ageing Populations, said an evaluation of current design practices should include a focus on design that inspires behaviour.
“Design that's grounded in behaviour is highly conducive to improvements in health and well-being. It should be a key driver in the way the built environment is shaped,” Fernandez said.
“And there’s a wealth of existing knowledge on this connection between design and behaviour.
“You just need to look at the phones, tablets and other portable devices we use to see the way product designers focus on behavioural outcomes,” she said.
“But when you examine the design of buildings and cities, it's often political vision or business imperatives that are being prioritised by architects and planners as opposed to a behavioural-based approach.”
It means design considerations to support our ageing population within the physical environment are not seen often enough.
Fernandez put forward the example of people in the UK with cataracts, a medical condition that can result in blurred vision.
“Around 60 per cent of the population over the age of 80 in the UK are affected," she said.
“If designers understand how these people see the built environment, then we may start to experience things such as lighting designed in a way that makes older adults feel safer and more confident to participate in society."
And it’s this sense of security that contributes to a good physical and mental health, according to Fernandez.
“In particular, there’s extensive research across the healthcare industry highlighting the impact that design and architecture can have on an individual’s well-being," she said.
“Studies show around 25 per cent of people accessing hospitals are likely to have dementia but at these places, even the newer ones, it’s common to find poor signage as well as very few directional cues.”
In Europe, where Fernandez heads up RMIT's European base, there’s currently dialogue around retrofitting homes for the ageing population that will include an integration of technology.
Fernandez also represents RMIT at the European Construction Technology Platform where she’s on the board of the Active Ageing and Design Committee.
But she says the conversation needs to extend outside of the home.
“We also need to think about spaces between buildings, such as streets, sidewalks, parks, squares as well as other important services such as the post-office, medical centres, and shops for daily living needs,” she said.
“It’s about improved design for all facets of life.”
For further details contact: Marta Fernandez, Executive Director, RMIT Europe, email@example.com
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