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Innovating for & with pensioners

When talking about innovation, pensioners and older people might not be the first target group coming to mind.

But, as futurist Sven Gabor Janszky stated, our life expectancy has doubled in the past 200 years, and our children might stand a good chance to celebrate their 120th birthday. We simply need to tackle the increasing need for care and take older people's well-being seriously.

Kuratorium Wiener Pensionisten-Wohnhäuser proved just how innovative they could be at the "Innovation DAY_ting" event on the 12th of May, the international day of care - in memory of the birthday of Florence Nightingale, a British nurse and pioneer of modern care:

An inspiring - because truly humble and human pioneer - Jos De Blok told the story of how he grew his model of neighbourhood care with Buurtzorg Nederland from a handful of people into a community of 15.000 nurses in self-organised teams by making himself redundant, reducing complexity and trusting people instead.

Zirpinsects made us taste the "protein of the future" in the form of dried worms and maggots.

A group of pensioners showed us how they could make the hall vibrate with their drums group.

And we got to try out VR goggles that are also being used to train care settings in hospitals - or to grant a 106-year-old lady the wish to race down the "Streif" slope virtually.

What it boiled down to was that thinking about the future of ageing goes far beyond catering to the bare necessities of older people. It's a question of what makes life worth living and how we can experience joy, connection and meaning at all ages. We need to be innovative to find solutions to the challenges of an increasingly older population.

At the same time, the words of my former doctor came to mind, who, now in his eighties, reminded me that, in all his years of experience, what was most important in medical and care settings, was this: simply taking the time to sit at someone's bed, holding their hand when needed. This, I hope, we'll always find, no matter how old we get.

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