Like many retirees, Nan wakes up in the morning, has a quiet leisurely breakfast, scans the newspaper headlines, and plans a day of activities and errands. She sets a time to go for her walk (while listening to the latest audiobook from the library), calls a friend to arrange dinner reservations, and checks the weather to see if it will be a good day for gardening. Depending on the day of the week, she might go to choir practice, one of the two book groups she belongs to, or to a community meeting about the new project going in downtown.
None of this is unusual, except for the fact that Nan is 91 years old, and lives independently in her own home.
Among the key variables that enable her to live a healthy, satisfying, and independent life are a decades-long commitment to remaining emotionally and intellectually engaged in the world, physically active, and on financially secure footing.
As we know from the research identified in the Sightlines Project, important influencers on wellbeing are demographic variables such as education, ethnicity, and marital status. But there are a variety of other actionable factors that lead to long-term happiness.
For example, like many people Nan talks to her neighbors – about the tree branch that looks like it might fall, about the new gas lines going in, and who is hosting the next block party. She also volunteers, through her church, with helping settle a refugee family who recently arrived in town.
Careful financial planning over the years means that Nan owns her home and her car (yes, she still drives!), has no credit card debt, and carefully budgets spending on her household, family, and charitable activities. She has also set aside funds in case needed for an emergency, like the time her basement flooded.
Nan’s physical health is, of course, a concern for both her, her family, and her doctor. But being a non-smoker, only a moderate partaker of alcohol, and a firm believer in daily physical exercise throughout her life have given her a strong foundation in wellbeing. In addition, when she discovered that her water aerobics class was not giving her legs sufficient strengthening exercise, she switched her focus to walking. This, in addition to a commitment to taking stairs (instead of an elevator) whenever practical, has greatly assisted in her commitment to remain agile and independently mobile.
The current Design Challenge, with its focus on healthy behaviors, seeks to promote design ideas and strategies that support more people like Nan – by assisting them in reaching a healthy older age through activities and decisions all throughout life. Some solutions could be assistive in nature (for example, previous Design Challenge winners have proposed a number of devices to help with physical mobility), or they could be preventive (that is, they could engage the mind, promote social activity, encourage saving, etc.).
Finally, please note that we want you to imagine how this applies to people of all ages (even children and young adults!). The sooner in life we start healthy habits, the better off we are. We look forward to seeing how students of today envision design that will create the healthier and happier people of the future.
Ken Smith joined SCL in July of 2009 as a Senior Research Scholar and Director of Academic and Research Support. He currently is Director of the Center’s Mobility Division. He works closely with SCL’s faculty colleagues to determine where Stanford expertise can best be used to drive change. He brings a broad background of over 20 years of management and engineering experience to his role, including positions in the computing, aerospace, and solar energy industries. He developed a special expertise in working closely with university faculty to develop projects while at Intel, where he was deeply involved in the creation and management of their network of university research labs. He serves on the Advisory Council for AgeTech West. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois with an M.S. from the University of Washington.