Innovations in Healthy Aging

By Dominic Lee

The aging of the world’s population is an issue that is quickly becoming a key focus of organizations around the world. Invested parties are grappling with how to accommodate a population segment that is quickly expanding and for which the usual placement into nursing homes or segregated developments will no longer suffice. Indeed, longevity and surrounding issues have been the focus of recent conferences held in Japan by both the World Economic Forum and the World Health Organization.

There exist fascinating innovations to help seniors with every day activities and ensure they remain enmeshed in our societal fabric. We know loneliness and social isolation are associated with increased mortality in seniors, and many opportunities are being developed to combat this while taking advantage of the wisdom and experience acquired by seniors.

The first innovation is best exemplified in the Netherlands, where university students can live in a nursing home rent-free in exchange for spending thirty hours each month as a “good neighbor”. This includes anything from helping to buy groceries to simply watching television and offering company should a “dorm”-mate fall ill. The students are helping with necessary activities, but also forming a stronger societal bond.

A similar connection is being forged in Seattle, at the Intergenerational Learning Center. Here, preschoolers visit a nursing home five days a week to take part in activities including music, art, dancing, and storytelling. The Center allows preschoolers to interact with members of the older generation, and has invigorated a previously segregated population of senior residents.

A final innovation pairs Chicago-area seniors with Brazilian students who are learning English, in order to help them practice their conversational skills (on Skype no less!). Not only did the students improve their language skills through their exchanges with a native speaker, but each party was also able to form culturally and emotionally rich relationships.

It is evident that the potential for contributions from our seniors is far broader than explored in most modern societies. As the over-60 segment of the world’s population continues to grow, new innovations such as those described will take on more and more importance. The continued inclusion and interaction epitomized above can help improve longevity and happiness, and must be a part of any future plan to constructively address aging challenges.


Do you know of other such projects where an aging challenge is turned into an opportunity? How do you interact with the seniors in your life? Do you know of any businesses you consider reflect true age-friendly practices? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting at @VitalityUSA.

Thumbnail credit: Abduzeedo

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