January 18, 2016

Elders, Aboriginals and Designing for Seniors

For what was meant to be a quick post to update Price Tags readers on my condition, “Entering the World of the Old” has had quite the circulation, including a Sun opinion piece, and not a little response.
One of the more intriguing comments just came in from architect David Simpson.  Worth passing along:


It was interesting to me to read your comments regarding being invisible to the young.
I have been working with a couple of Aboriginal non-profit groups in Nanaimo and have seen how the Youths look up to the Elders in that culture. In most of the meetings there is an Elder present to provide cultural guidance and wisdom, and in some way I seem also to be accepted by the younger people in the groups as someone who has experience to offer in spite of the cultural difference.
It has made me think differently about the place for “seniors” such as ourselves. We have spent a lot of effort creating homes for seniors that are designed to accommodate “old folks”.  Yet we don’t see ourselves as growing old because there is always someone older – so why should we be in an environment that reminds us of our age?

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  1. Or as one my friends from Silicon Valley says wryly about ageism in high-tech, “Youth may be wasted on the young but wisdom is wasted on the old.”

  2. BTW, jealous that you’re in Hawaii, but we are heading to the big island on Feb. 6 for a week 🙂
    Daphne Bramham Columnist The Vancouver Sun Suite 1 – 200, Granville St. Vancouver, B.C. V6C 3N3 Mobile: 604.802.9670 Email: dbramham@postmedia.com Twitter: @daphnebramham
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    From: Price Tags <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Price Tags <comment+pf-s40xfgvoosjkju416as@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Monday, January 18, 2016 at 3:57 PM To: “Bramham, Daphne (Vancouver Sun)” <DBramham@postmedia.com> Subject: [New post] Elders, Aboriginals and Designing for Seniors
    pricetags posted: ” For what was meant to be a quick post to update Price Tags readers on my condition, “Entering the World of the Old” has had quite the circulation, including a Sun opinion piece, and not a little response. One of the more intriguing comments just ca”

  3. We need to be careful about simplistic, absolutist thinking of seniors. They are – because of the effluxion of time – actually less homogenous than youngers. A group of 70 year-olds will show far much more diversity (mental & physical health), than a group of 20 yrs.
    Some of their wisdom can provide us with valuable, everlasting lessons, but their slow adaptation (or outright rejection), to an increasingly fast-changing world can also result in antiquated, obsolete beliefs which are regressive or even harmful to modern life. The trick is to dinstinguish the good advice from the bad.
    Applying homogenity to housing for the elderly can also be counterproductive. Designing for the most frail, making everything soft, easy and mechanized (abolishing stairs), adds to sedentary life. Unlike rural settings, urban seniors need some daily rigour. They say the seniors of Positano will have any easy trip to heaven because of all the steps they’ve taken.

    1. Andrea, I think you need to distinguish between an “old folks home” and a care facility. A very large percentage of seniors, perhaps the majority, will require 24/7 care with all the attendant equipment and staff. Falling down stairs — or just falling — can lead to months of hospitalization from the complications, or even death in the elderly. To imply that stairs should be encouraged as a form of exercise for seniors is just so far from the actual realities of ageing and ongoing infirmity. Recovering from surgery in your 60s is not the same as trying to get around with several permanent maladies in your 80s without hope of recovery, thus flat stairless halls and electric wheelchairs can really elevate one’s mobility.
      I have concluded from witnessing several of my own elders’ deeply frustrating experiences that the principles of barrier-free universal accessibility can and should inform every facet of planning, urban design and architecture. By all means, put in stairs where needed, but always provide alternate means of mobility for people with disabilities. By designing an entire city on these principles the city naturally evolves into a connected series of walkable and transit-oriented communities where all age groups and physical abilities are accounted for. This is far, far advanced from simple curb letdowns, stairless senior’s residences and handrails lining the hall walls.

    2. Thanks, Andrea, for reminding us that not all seniors are alike and some thrive on walking up stairs each day; thanks, MB, for reminding us that disabled elderly need the ramps and handrails to give them some independence despite their physical handicaps. It sure is challenging to design for the needs of all people.

    3. Every planner, designer and stakeholder in design and health care should put themselves in a wheelchair for a day or two and try to go everywhere they normally go. Better yet, do it in one of any number of care facilities. It will be a most illuminating experience.
      My mother lost her independence at 78 and spent the last 12 years of her life needing long-term 24/7 care in a facility located deep in the suburbs of Calgary. She received an electric wheelchair in the 5th year and it opened up the local neighbourhood to her. Prior to that she didn’t dare try to navigate the sidewalks and crosswalks alone in a manual wheelchair. The HandiBus (Calgary’s version of HandyDart) opened up the city to her, but I consider that only a partial success. It is a service that struggles to keep up with the vast distances they have to travel in a city built for the car while managing criminally inadequate budgets. It became so frustrating for her on the milk runs imposed with longer trips that she gave up going to family functions and even doctor’s appointments located more than five km away.
      It became clear with elder mobility that planning and urban design has greatly failed an entire sector of society in most of our cities. I also developed a deep-seated, low grade rage over how my old home own blew it — and still blows it — so badly. Not 700m away is the platform for Heritage Station on the south C-Train line. It was impossible for her to get there even in summer due to the terrible, anti-pedestrian nine lanes of traffic on McLeod Trail, the poor condition of the sidewalks, and hopelessly short crosswalk signals.
      Not two km away is the Chinook Centre, a mall ornamented with the typical suburban halo of massive parking lots. The rapid transit station was placed more than 500m away in an industrial zone. The distasteful PoMo Vegas mall architecture doesn’t help elevate one’s opinion. Had Chinook been redeveloped more in keeping with its status and great potential as a large town centre, high density mixed use development could have placed my mother in a facility only an elevator ride away from the indoor mall and its hundreds of amenities. Had the planners brought the C-Train onto the mall property, even people living in a care facility and moving about in wheelchairs could have easy access to the entire city, at least the places the accessible trains go, and all indoors until you exited the train. Their quality of life would increase immensely.
      This is why I’ve concluded that increasing the quality of life for the elderly through better urbanism will increase the quality of life for all.

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