Healthy Aging

6 Smart Ideas for Aging That Might Become Reality


Sometime in the near future, you might be helping to design a new pill bottle that’s easier for arthritic hands to open. Or maybe volunteering as a “wellness coach” – a core member of a medical team caring for a senior.

These are two of 133 concepts that were created, refined and upvoted by a global community of thinkers and doers who accepted the challenge: “How might we all maintain wellbeing and thrive as we age?”

The challenge, sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, was developed by the crowdsourcing innovation platform Open IDEO. The OpenIDEO community is open to anyone who wants to take on challenges, working together online with others to come up with and build ideas and then pick the most promising.

During the voting phase of the aging challenge, we told you about 10 of our favorite ideas. Now, the Mayo and Open IDEO have picked the six winners. Winning ideas stand a good chance of being implemented in partnership with relevant sectors and organizations.

Here they are:

  1. Seniors as wellness coaches Are you health savvy? Great at communicating? There might be a new volunteer opportunity for you soon. One of our picks during the voting stage of the challenge, “A bridge to wellness” connects healthcare students with senior volunteers who serve as wellness coaches, creating support teams for aging community members when they make doctor visits. The wellness coaches will provide peer-to-peer support and help the healthcare students understand the needs of older patients. Given the shortage of gerontologists – doctors who are trained to understand the needs of older patients – senior advisors could make a valuable addition to a health care team.
  2. Participatory design pods This idea was sparked by a comment Senior Planet made on the Open IDEO site soon after the challenge launched. In response to the wording of the challenge brief, we commented: “…the perspective of the pitch assumes that the people engaging with this challenge are not old and that younger people will be coming up with the solutions. I hope we all get a chance to offer our insights, experiences and good ideas!” New-product strategist Sylvia Stein ran with the comment and came up with a simple concept: Bring the design-thinking methodology to aging communities. After all, who knows the design needs of seniors better than seniors? The concept calls for physical spaces within senior or community centers where older people can participate in a structured, facilitated design-thinking process to create solutions for aging-related issues and challenges. A test run is currently being planned in a Greenwich Village, New York apartment complex where many seniors are aging in place.
  3. Pop-up wellness lounges This idea – another of our picks during the voting stage – was inspired by reports about older people in China who gather at IKEA because it’s a comfortable space to hang out and meet other people. In this version, temporary wellness lounges will be created in vacant storefronts or community spaces and staffed by wellness coaches, who are trained to answer health questions, point people to information and program events; people can meet here to attend demonstrations, classes and health-related talks – or just to check in and socialize. Read more.
  4. Shared decision-making tools You go to the doctor; the doctor delivers a hurried and worrying diagnosis; you go home and start trying to deal with your situation.Your grownup kids are out of the loop and your doctor has moved on. This tool is designed to close the gap so that you, your doctor and your grownup kids (if you choose) can handle medical situations as a team. It helps you ask the right questions; it helps the doctor become more responsive to your needs; and it helps your kids support you emotionally and practically. Read more.
  5. The Sandwich Game is a mobile app for “sandwich” parents – people who are caring for kids and their own parents, too. The app, which is city-based, encourages members of this sandwich generation to come up with and share creative activities for making day-to-day care engaging, healthy, fun – and multigenerational.
  6. Caregiver toolkits According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “More than one-third of caregivers provide intense and continuing care to others while suffering from poor health themselves.” And in many cases, the need to provide care comes suddenly when you’re lest prepared. This toolkit answers the needs of untrained and ill-prepared caregivers with a mix of digital resources – how-to videos and resource directories on legal, financial, emotional and other issues; online support groups – as well as comfort packages of goodies to lift the lives of caregivers. Read more.

We’re eager to see how these ideas develop as they move toward implementation!

Which idea are you most interested in seeing materialize? Tell us in the comments below.


12 responses to “6 Smart Ideas for Aging That Might Become Reality

  1. When you said senior and design, I thought it would be new ideas for the home to make it more senior-friendly.
    Can you point me to articles on that? Not adaptations for wheelchairs only, but all kinds of ideas for kitchens and baths, and doing yardwork.
    I read recently that 30% of Americans live alone. If that is accurate, then a lot of seniors live alone.
    I am a 69 yo woman who lives alone in a condo in Florida.
    How many others are there?

  2. Re: Pop-up Lounges. Most of the services and community already exist in senior centers. Why not have huge health org’s like the Mayo Clinic team up with the non-profits that already are the experts in senior issues, relieving the city of some of the funding burden, and add in the wellness pieces to structures already in place?

  3. I am busy transitioning into my third life. I am now a certified health coach with a focus on teaching the basics of Nutritional Literacy to age with health and vitality. The service will mostly be web based (ant that is a challenge with the techie part) The other part of my life is as a counselor and clinical social worker since the early 1970’s. You may wish to check out my website to learn more about me and what I am offering and where I am going.and developing. I just began this transition in late 2013.

  4. I propose pop-up senior centers in little used mid-day coffee shops, bars or stores. Seniors might discuss their needs, their concerns, possible solutions, a shared reading or just schmooze.

    On-line sites such as and might be used to coordinate this. What say?

      1. As long as a table or two were made available for a start – and perhaps a discount on coffee or soda – a group of interested seniors should be able to take it from there with announcements on, at libraries, etc.

  5. All 6 are all really good suggestions. I especially like nos. 1 and 2. It is true that many youth do not know what to make of seniors….they want to be kind and sometimes just do not know how to, for the very important job of caring for seniors, this could be an answer to the problem…..AND, it’s true, who knows best of the needs of seniors but they themselves. Bravo for this initiative.

  6. #3 appears to be describing senior centers. We provide all that and more! All we need is the funding to open in the evenings, or to go to the local shopping strips in nearby communities to open a store front for those who can easily walk there because they do their shopping there.

      1. Barbara- the “we” is all senior centers, not just my organization. Our mandate is to promote healthy aging.
        And I like the idea of pop-up one-stops. There are probably already meetups for seniors to discuss common issues. If they’re to be based in a store front, and include I & R, I would include someone knowledgeable about these issues as the “go-to” expert who can find forms and info on line and help people fill them out, make calls for them, etc (as we do at senior centers). That person could be a trained senior or a small team of seniors who can support each other.

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