We can do more to support seniors at home

Creating a truly supportive environment for ageing Australians requires a multifaceted approach, writes Julianne Parkinson.

The release of the federal budget 2024 brings hope for older Australians. For instance, the federal government’s commitment of $882 million over five years aims to enhance hospital outreach and virtual care services to help improve community support for older Australians, reducing prolonged hospital stays and supporting their quality of life. It also has the potential to ease the pressure on the healthcare system by freeing up hospital beds.

While these, and other budget initiatives, are positive developments, we can do more to support the quality of life for older Australians. Australia, like many countries, is experiencing population ageing. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the number of people aged 65 years and over is projected to increase from 4.2 million in 2020 to more than 10 million by 2066.

While this may seem daunting, this demographic shift offers Australia the opportunity to think proactively, navigate associated challenges and open the door to new possibilities. From independent living innovations to community-based support, creating a truly supportive environment for ageing Australians requires a multifaceted approach.

Empowering older Australians with better product usability

One significant area where Australia can enhance the quality of life for older adults is in the usability of everyday products and assistive technologies, as it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a gap between the industry’s perception of product user-friendliness and the actual usability challenges faced by older Australians every day.

Julianne Parkinson

The Global Centre for Modern Ageing recently surveyed more than 1,000 Australians aged 65 years or more for the Empowering Older Australians with Better Product Usability report. The results show that while 93 per cent of respondents believed product usability supported independent living, most were dissatisfied with the user-friendliness of products intended for their use.

Incredibly, 81 per cent of respondents felt overlooked by product designers, who often fail to consider the needs and preferences of older consumers. The most common usability barriers cited were small fonts (49 per cent), grip issues (76 per cent), tough packaging (77 per cent) and confusing instructions (66 per cent).

However, despite encountering these barriers, 43 per cent of respondents reported that they did not seek assistance or request modifications when dissatisfied with a product. Furthermore, 74 per cent of participants expressed a desire for clearer age-friendliness information on products, which would empower them to make better-informed purchasing decisions.

These statistics indicate a large gap in product usability that not only impacts the daily lives and routines of older adults, but also points to a broader issue of age-related exclusion within product design. There is an urgent need for targeted research and innovative solutions to address these product usability issues, to ensure these products support and enhance the daily lives of older Australians.

The role of research and design

At the GCMA we facilitate targeted research and engage various stakeholders, including older adults, to co-design solutions to bridge this gap. Our internationally recognised living lab, one of only 18 globally with a focus on ageing, is a collaborative hub that drives marketplace innovation. By involving older adults directly in the design process, we harness their lived experiences to pinpoint expectations, pain points and aspirations.

In response to the GCMA’s product usability findings, we have developed an independent digital product usability rating platform that leverages the lived experiences of older individuals to enable more inclusive product design. Created to understand and rate products by identifying usability strengths and challenges, the digital platform uses an evidence-based approach that utilises a persona-based filter so the diverse abilities and preferences of end-users are captured, producing meaningful and individualised insights.

The platform, which will be launched soon, considers a range of factors such as user-friendliness, ergonomics and packaging, providing a comprehensive usability rating for products, including assistive technologies. This offers greater clarity to product developers and empowers older consumers as they test and rate the usability of products. The data and insights form a report that informs decision-making by product developers and management procuring products on scale for use in aged care, at-home and retirement living settings.

A call for continued advocacy

To build a nation where every individual, regardless of age, has the opportunity to thrive, we must act now. As Australians, we should recognise and respond to the evolving needs, preferences and circumstances of older adults, who are living longer and more differently than ever before.

Designers, manufacturers and policymakers should collaborate to create a more inclusive, age-friendly product landscape that supports independent living and enhances the quality of life for older generations. By embracing inclusive design and considering the diverse needs of older end-users, they can develop user-friendly products that promote empowerment, choice, and independence. Such a collaboration could improve daily living and help foster a society that respects and values the lives and ongoing contributions of older individuals.

Download GMCA’s report, Empowering Older Australians with Better Product Usability, here.

Julianne Parkinson is the founding CEO of the Global Centre for Modern Ageing

Comment on the story below. Do you have an opinion to share about an issue or something topical in the aged care sector? Get in touch at editorial@australianageingagenda.com.au

Tags: Empowering Older Australians with Better Product Usability, Global Centre for Modern Ageing, Julianne Parkinson,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *