“Conceptual Thinking” is Needed in a Human Approach to Elderly Care

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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 “conceptual thinking” 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.

“United 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,” Professor Scharoun said.

“The 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.

“A ‘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.

“Basically, 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.

“A common perception in the countries we studied is that aging is a process of gradual deterioration,” she said.

“We 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.

“It 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.

“We 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.

“By 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 “Inspired by Singapore: Design for Healthy Aging” workshops, for example, brought together students in graphic design, industrial design, web design, film, media and nursing.

Dr Ragavendra Gudur (University of Canberra), Professor Lisa Scharoun (QUT), Associate Professor Danny Hills (Federation University) and Professor Daphne Flynn (Monash University) at the Inspired by Singapore Co-design for Healthy Aging exhibition

“We had 175 students who attended these workshops in major urban centers of Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane,” she said.

“They 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.

“Each team member represented a different discipline and / or culture, which encouraged knowledge sharing and an ‘outside the box’ approach to problem solving.

Design for Healthy Aging underway in Singapore

“Students 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.

“As 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,” said the Professor Scharoun.

“Conceptual 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.

“Nursing 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.

/ University Liberation. This material is from the original organization and may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. See it in full here.


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