Metabesity 2021: Eric Kihlstrom explains why design, language and business model are key factors for aging in place and the longevity ecosystem.
Next week sees the return of the Targeting Metabesity annual conference, bringing together a host of speakers from multiple disciplines across the aging field, with the goal of helping drive “material and equitable gains” in public health. And, while the development of age-related drugs and interventions are certainly on the agenda, there is also a significant focus on other areas of the ecosystem, such as the behavioural, regulatory and social changes that can drive longevity benefits.
Longevity.Technology: The issue of housing and, in particular, enabling people to remain in their own homes for longer are key considerations in any aging strategy. One Metabesity speaker with strong views on this subject is Eric Kihlstrom, Secretariat of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity. We caught up with him to tap into his thoughts on healthy aging and “aging in place.”
Kihlstrom, who is also the chairman of over 50s marketing agency Older, is a respected voice in the world of healthy aging, and he points to three key pillars that should underpin any initiative in this area: design, language and business model.
“Design is important – just because you get older doesn’t mean you lose your sense of aesthetic,” says Kihlstrom. “If you’re designing a product for an older audience, it doesn’t have to look medical or even agricultural equipment, which is what often seems to happen.”
“But we also need to talk to people in the right way – we need to talk to their aspirations, not their deficits, and so language is also really important when it comes to taking products for older people to market.”
The final pillar, business model, is perhaps the most important of the three, as Kihlstrom explains.
“I’ve seen dozens of entrepreneurs who come up with a great idea to help seniors,” he says. “The problem is their target customers expect health or social care to pay for it, so the business model around who you’re selling to is absolutely fundamental.”
Kihlstrom points to the Ford Focus as a good example of how a brand managed to successfully implement all three pillars in a product.
“The car is inclusively designed, they thought of an older generation in its design, but they use marketing language that applies to everybody, and there’s also an innovative business model around all of that,” he explains, pointing out that older people generally don’t see themselves as old so don’t want to be marketed to on that basis. “A Japanese manufacturer created a car that was specific to an older generation and it failed miserably, because they called it a car for old people.”
Applying the pillars to aging in place
When it comes to the home, Kihlstrom highlights the concept of multigenerational homes, which are now being designed to appeal to as many as four different generations.
“A four-generation home is a home that a 20 year old and an 80 year old would equally be willing to live in,” he says. “One of the big problems that we have in new towns, for example, is that we create them, people love them, but then they have to move out when they get old, because they weren’t built for older people. If you had an inclusive, four-generation design, you would have a town that would be appropriate for people to stay in forever.”
Stay tuned for our new market intelligence report on aging in place – arriving in November.
Kihlstrom uses in-home adaptations as an example of an area where creativity and innovation can change how a product is viewed and received by an older audience.
“Think about the grab rails often installed at older people’s homes,” he says. “They are typically these white, medical things that wouldn’t look out of place in a hospital – they basically draw attention to the fact that whoever live here is frail.”
“The National Housing Federation did a challenge around adaptations in the home and a company called Invisible Creations responded with grab rails disguised as something else – a flower pot holder, mirror or even a toilet roll holder,” he says. “These are products that look really nice and are appropriate for anyone – they just also have an added benefit for older people.”
With advances in technology at the core of many companies targeting aging in place, Kihlstrom raises a cautionary note when it comes to companies focused on giving people the ability to monitor their parents at home.
“I could not give that for free to my parents – they don’t like the idea of their activities on the internet for me to look at,” he says. “I know a UK falls prevention company who found that older people were more receptive if the technology was presented as a way to enable them to stay in their own home for longer independently, without having to share data with their children. That way they didn’t feel like a burden.”
Make falls prevention fun
Kihlstrom points to society’s “medicalized” view of aging as being a key issue with how it is treated in practice.
“Healthcare systems don’t see their job as being around prevention, they see it as fixing people,” he says. “For example, the number one reason older people go into care in the UK is falls, but the NHS isn’t really addressing falls prevention.”
Even when falls prevention is raised, Kihlstrom feels that it isn’t approached in the right way to make it appealing to older people.
“People don’t want to think about falls prevention – they don’t see themselves as old, they don’t want to do anything that relates to being old, they don’t want to look frail,” he says. “It’s much better to speak to their aspirations than their limitations. People don’t aspire to avoid falls, their aspiration is to work on their bucket list, travel somewhere or visit friends and family – they want to see the grandkids.”
Kihlstrom gives the example of a virtual bowling league using Nintendo’s Wii console, which players actually move their bodies to control on-screen characters.
“The action of bowling is actually a really good balance exercise, but it’s fun – it’s exercise by stealth,” he says. “You’re not trying to get people to do ‘fall prevention exercises’ – we need to think about the human side of this, not the medical side.
“So that’s how you design and talk to people around falls prevention – that’s how you do aging in place.”
Metabesity 2021 is a virtual conference and starts next week. Register to attend absolutely FREE here!