AgeLab's "Global Aging" Course Challenges Students to Develop Ideas on the Fly

by Adam Felts

MIT’s Global Aging and the Built Environment course challenges students to reimagine the world to meet the needs of an aging population. AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin, who teaches the course, pushes the class toward hands-on thinking as they rush to interview older adults, learn from industry leaders, and have project ideas – or even prototypes – ready for presentation at the end of the spring.

The 2023 iteration of the course had seven student groups developing projects related to social isolation, hospital transitions, physical activity, downsizing, and more. Students presented on their projects on the final day of the semester at the MIT AgeLab. Below are descriptions of three of the projects:

Kavie Yu, Zhihan Wang, Liang Yang, and Hongjin Yang explored potential tools and technologies that might help caregivers navigate their care recipients’ transition out of the hospital and into the home. During their review of the literature, they found that half of readmissions happen within 11 days of discharge, many because the home is not equipped for the outpatient’s needs or due to lack of education given to the caregiver or patient.

After discussions with field experts, including Michael Hughes and Terry Spitznagel of United Church Homes and Monica Stynchula of Reunioncare, as well as conversations with members of the AgeLab’s Lifestyle Leaders panel, the students created a prototype mobile application called Cimplist. The application provides a simplified checklist for post-discharge as well as an option to purchase home care tools and equipment

Near the AgeLab offices in Kendall Square is the MIT Open Space, a recently developed public gathering space. Kanna Atarashi, Keiko Yabe, Caroline Holloway, and Sangwon Kim explored how the Open Space can better highlight intergenerational interactions and adhere to principles of universal and accessible design. The team’s goal was to support the growth of the Kendall Square Open Space into a more multigenerational, welcoming hub for diverse communities to gather.

To identify some of the challenges that people face in utilizing the space, the group conducted site observations using VisionAid, an eye disease simulator, and the AgeLab’s AGNES. They also spoke to stakeholders from MIT’s Planning Office, members of the AgeLab’s Lifestyle Leader panel, and current users of the Open Space. In response to their findings, they created design concepts that emphasized clear wayfinding, provided comfortable and enticing places to stay, and encouraged movement and organic interactions throughout the environment.

The AgeLab focuses heavily on how people imagine and relate to their future selves.  Raul Briceno, Anisha Gosh, and Nikki Zheng asked, “How might we enable young people to experience and envision their ‘older’ selves so they can feel more motivated to take action today to live a better life tomorrow?” To better understand the topic of future planning, they conducted interviews, surveys, and background research. They found that many people lack basic financial knowledge and are not confident in their ability to invest in retirement.

The goals for their project were to: 1) rethink the word “retirement”; 2) present financial information and knowledge in a digestible way; 3) talk more about feelings, not money; and 4) let people’s voices be heard and emphasize that no one is alone in the challenge of future-planning. The students created posters and kiosks to test whether these systems could grab people’s attention as well as provoke thought and conversation.

Last year, students’ projects included a hearing aid expo, an intergenerational travel agency, and a new system for hospital discharges.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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