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Ageing well: Coursework for Re-thinking aging

Currently, I am participating in an massive online open course (MOOC) from the University of Melbourne on the topic of Re-thinking aging:  are we prepared to live longer?

The free course is offered through Coursera; it started the last week in April and runs for 5 weeks. You can read more about the course and sign up for future offerings at: https://www.coursera.org/learn/ageing/home/welcome

We were encouraged to keep a journal or blog about our journey through the course, particularly to note where our opinions and ideas have changed from the beginning of the course to the end. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share the course information and my opinions with you – a little something different than my usual posts 🙂 As such, this will be a work in progress over the next 5 weeks.

Week 5:  Ageing well

This week takes a thoughtful approach on the broad societal issues and ethical questions involved in what means to ‘age well.’ For example, is 60 the new 40? What do these changes in perception of ageing mean for intergenerational relationships and how we value older people? How ought we to live and act in order to age well and sustainably as individuals and together?

The assignment:

This is the final assignment in the course and centres around the idea of backcasting. In contrast to forecasting, with backcasting you begin with imagining a desirable future, then work backwards to identify what steps or actions would need to happen to get there.

We hope by thinking 25 years into the future, to 2040, provides you with a genuine opportunity to take some time and reflect on everything you’ve learned from the course, from your fellow Courserians and about yourself to rethink the concept of ageing for an ideal society and future.

Explore a population view on ageing. This could include going back to your ‘selected country’ in week one and consider what that country would need to do to maintain a sustainable older population in terms of any of the following topics: designing age-friendly cities, addressing health risk factors, fiscal policies, societal values and ethical considerations or another related topic of your choosing.

Propose an optimal design for housing or health care settings that takes into account the health and social needs as well as generational preferences. In particular, focus on the concepts discussed in week three and consider a design that evokes a positive emotional response, dignity, and supports interpersonal relationships. 500-1000 words

My essay:

Living in Denmark in 204o

For my assignment, chose to propose an optimal design for housing which takes into account the health and social needs as well as generational preferences. The assignment addresses design which evokes a positive emotional response, dignity, and support interpersonal relationships.

In Denmark, I foresee an increase in communal living by the 2040. There are already several small communes and one that is larger and well-known in Europe (Christiania in Copenhagen), and this style of living has been increasing in recent years. Some of these communes focus on intergenerational living and interpersonal relationships, others centralize around energy efficiency and sustainable living, and others yet are related to shared meals and child rearing. By 2040, I envision this increasingly being used as an alternative to the current types of adult aged and care facilities currently available in Denmark. I think that there will be an increasing trend towards societal values and community living, including people moving away from cities and back into rural areas.

In 2040, I will turn 58. I am using this as inspiration for an optimal design for housing when I am older and envisioning living there for at least a decade. This housing establishment is in the form of a community-style living arrangement in an area where there are around 50,000 inhabitants. Perhaps around 30 are living in this particular commune. People of all ages and functional levels are cohabitating and have a voice in how the community organizes and functions (very Danish of them!). There is a strong focus on sustainable and environmentally-friendly living (this will surely be a bigger “thing” in 2040, right?), including using only renewable energy, composting, organic gardening and eating, recycling, etc. This area has facilities for promoting exercise and socialization through outdoor play areas and green space for all ages. There will be other activity options, such as social clubs for children, women, or men, and focusing on a variety of options such as cooking, woodworking, painting, gardening, music, and so on.

The design of the area, being in Denmark – an area known for architecture and design, is minimalist, energy-efficient, with open rooms, few stairs in the common areas, lots of natural light, and incorporating living plants. As many of these common areas and homes will be built after 2016, universal design and design for all principles are incorporated. They meet laws and regulations for accessibility, including physical, mental, and cognitive. I envision, with the currently growing numbers of people living with dementia, that cognitive accessibility and dementia-friendly design will be mainstreamed and incorporated into the design and functionality of communities. Walking areas will be wide, smooth, well-lit, well-maintained, and with resting areas along the paths. Signage and signals will be large enough to be read by those with poorer vision and simple enough to understand for those with reduced cognitive ability.

I imagine grocery stores and shops that have areas or benches for customers to rest and even socialize, large print signs, shelves that are not too high or too low and wide aisles. I also imagine shops that are dementia-friendly, meaning they have undergone training and know how to accommodate customers with cognitive problems in an effective manner. I also imagine a society of people living there who are helpful, patient, engaged with each other, social and active, and who actively break down ageist stereotypes that older adults can’t work or contribute to society.

There will also be a strong use of technology incorporated both in the homes and in the community. The will be internet access freely available, and smart cities will have been realized. This means that crosswalks will sense when there are still people walking in cross walks and will wait until they are across before changing the traffic lights. There will also be cameras and sensors to detect falls and resulting inactivity (signaling assistance services to the location). Homes will have not only welfare technologies and Ambient Assisted Living functions we currently know of, but also smart surfaces which can clean and disinfect themselves and walls which can sense illness and infection and recommend and connect to relevant care services. Robotics will be used not only as welfare technologies to ease and enhance daily living, but also as companions and for socialization.

There will be multiple generations living in one household dwelling, who may or may not be related. When it comes to care, there will be several in the commune who are knowledgeable, experienced and willing to assist as far as they can. Denmark will continue to have a strong welfare state, providing assistance to those who need it in a personalized manner and at the point of care (most often in the home). With more internet connectivity and advanced eHealth systems, medications and other treatments can be delivered to and administered in the home as appropriate and the healing, rehabilitative, and/or palliative care outcomes can be monitored through sensors in the home and through wearable technologies. When the time of death comes, hospice services can be offered in the home and those who are actively dying will not be cloistered away from the rest of society – a benefit for both the individuals and the community.

This community I envision is accommodating to people of all ages and abilities, encouraging and allowing them to participate in family life, social activities, and their community as much as they desire. There will be less loneliness in these types of communities than in the general public now, a reduction in mental illnesses, and an increase in physical activity, leading to more active advanced years. The people living there will support each other and advocate for each other’s needs. There will be shared responsibilities for meals, household maintenance, child rearing, enhancing the well-being of others, and providing assistance to those who may need and wish to have it.

Feedback from classmates (funnily enough, two of my fellow learners who reviewed were also named Carrie/Keri 🙂 ):

I thoroughly enjoyed this article on many levels. It was very clear and I could easily envision what you had in mind. I’m fascinated by Denmark not only because Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the U.S. has highly recommended the Danish model for welfare, healthcare and education (although it wouldn’t work here) but also because I’ll be going to the University of Copenhagen to learn more about gerontechnology opportunities this summer. What a great timing! Thank you for such a thorough assessment.
The aspect of this article I most enjoyed was the powerful vision of a desirable future with specific details that feels achievable and almost real.
Overall, I think the course was a good introduction into aging topics and covered areas of gerontology which are not typically covered in other courses I have taken (design, ethics, folklore), which made it appealing and interesting. The coursework really encouraged learners to apply what was learned to their own lives and to consider what aging will mean to them, which was also a bit different than other MOOC courses I have taken, where we would primarily summarize the week’s content. I would recommend this course to others, although I would not recommend paying for the certificate.
And that wraps up week 5 and the course. I would love to hear your comments on this article and this course. Did you learn anything surprising? Would you consider taking this course yourself?
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4 thoughts on “Ageing well: Coursework for Re-thinking aging

  1. Interesting. Perhaps they should look at me to get some secrets as I don’t seem to age at all I’m turning 73 and I’m like a boy of 8 maybe less 🙂 Honestly no difference at all. In fact I look at the over twenty and even much younger as being already old nowadays. They grow too fast. are too complicated and age quickly because they don’t retain the playfulness, curiosity, lack of social inhibitions and ability of being happy with simple things of little children. Anyway I have a very dim view of the future. In my view the way that you paint it in your essay is too rosy. There are far too many problems in the world to ensure that old people in 2040 will have an easy life. I feel that there is a general steep decline in all aspects of society and the environment that is out of control. Moreover those that should make changes such as politicians, business people, academics, artists and so on are no apt to the task because everything is dictated by money and are servants of money who is the God that everybody worship. Also as old people will become much more numerous there maybe not enough money to pay their benefits or even pensions. It’s an universal law that what goes up eventually goes down and even crumbles. Since the second world war thanks to technology things have gone up and up but now I feel that they are going rapidly down. This said one of my books paints a future in the year 6000 when people will live happily and in perfect health and still relatively young up to 160. It’s a lively work of fantasy and humour of course, though whether I believe that it will really happen though it’s another question. Best Regards.

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    • Hi ControversialCook! Thanks for your comments. There sure is a lot to learn by actually looking at people who are aging and who are older – and it sounds like you would be a really interesting (and informative) case study 🙂
      Agreed, my essay is painted in a rosy color – I am a pisces, a romantic, and very optimistic! It was an ideal setting, and I think I described somewhere where I would like to live pretty well. I think one of the really inspiring aspects of this course was how it asked learners to backcast, by looking at what they envision for their lives when they are older – helps to put things into perspective now as I am in my 30s and old age seems still quite abstract for me to place myself in.
      Your book about the year 6000 sounds like something I would love to read – could you please post a link to it here in the comments – it’s likely other readers would enjoy it, too! Thanks 🙂

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      • Thanks a lot. Here is the link. I’m sure you will enjoy it. and don’t forget to make a good review because as for September I will start to advertise it in a London’s magazine. https://www.amazon.co.uk/LIONESS-PASTRY-COOK-African-Dream-ebook/dp/B00E1IIXMY Anyway what I forgot to say in my comment is that one worrying aspect of becoming old, at least here in Britain, is that, due to diminishing government’s funds the National Health is failing to provide proper care for old people, in fact for everybody. Now patients needing operations must wait moths before they have one and once they are operated they usually are kicked out of the hospital the same day. This was unheard of say 15-20 years ago. I feel that the situation will get worse that is why id wise for older people to have some saving in order to be able to afford better private care. Also Dental treatment used to be free but now except for basic treatment is getting prohibitively expensive I don’t know how it is in Denmark but here the situation is worrying.

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        • Thanks for the link!
          I am not sure about specific situations around surgery in Denmark, but typically (for all ages) they try to get the patient back home as soon as safely possible and to start rehabilitation. Nations all over the world are feeling the pinch of medical costs, meeting the health and social care needs of aging populations, and the need to change the current way care is organized and provided. For surgeries and some diagnostic tests, such as MRI scans, there are defined waiting times and if an individual’s waiting time exceeds that, they can elect to go to another part of Denmark or to a private practice for expedited care at the State’s expense.
          Dental care is not free in Denmark, as it is not under the national health plan (but it is also offered in different ways to older adults – for example, home visits from the dentist are available if the person meets certain criteria). You can choose to pay into private insurance, also offered through some work places, which covers a percentage of dental costs.

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