Design the World You Want to Age In

September 7th, 2021 | Reading time: 3 minutes

Design the World You Want to Age In
Noel Gauthier, Senior Designer, P&G Ventures

I was hooked on startups. Making eyewear for millennials. Pulling all-nighters in dusty workshops. Welding prototypes and conjuring up what could be the next big thing. But I changed course last year when I walked through P&G Ventures Studio door and saw a chance to design something enticingly new: the world we’ll age in. The world that’s waiting for our moms and dads. For our kids. For us.  

Fellow designers, fellow inventors—there’s a profound opportunity in front of us. Over 90% of the Boomer generation already is (or will be) aging at home. Aging on their own terms. Holding onto their home and car keys unlike the generations before them who routinely shuffled into retirement communities and accepted being “elderly” and the lifestyle that went with it. 

This Boomer shift seems fantastically empowering on the surface (and it is), but it also forces us to consider the systemic conundrum of how our country and wallets will sustain this massive cultural shift. Because everyone knows SSNs won’t be of use. Medicare is slim; government aid looks glum; and paying for private, in-home nursing care is out of the question for 99% of us. It’s the “Crisis of Care” you’ve likely caught wind of. And so far, it’s an unsolved mystery. 

So every week, my team pushes into the huge, gaping space that exists around products and solutions that haven’t yet been created for this ever-growing, age-at-home population. And it’s a gaping space because when you look 5 to 10 years back, you’ll see that most innovation was happening solely for the institutions. For the nursing staff, the retirement communities, the city hospitals. Not innovation for the home or the family system. Not for the individual caregivers. And this oversight leaves an outage like you wouldn’t believe. 

But if you’re like me and my coworkers, you see this as a remarkable opportunity. Suddenly, there’s a wide open playing field for invention—for brilliant modifications to simple problems. I’ll give you a for instance: Rethinking how older adults can shower more safely and autonomously inside their own homes and not have to move into a nursing home simply because they don’t have an easy way to get clean. Or this one: solving the dehydration dilemma because we likely won’t have a nurse’s aide who’s monitoring our hydration level inside our living rooms. Or what about dreaming up the next incontinence product that doesn’t look (or sound, God sound) embarrassing and can keep us active in the world and contributing to this great society.

Not to mention, there’s wide open space to create solutions for the caregivers, themselves. Those spouses, close friends, adult children, neighbors, or paid non-members of the family who step up to the plate, roll up their sleeves, and make life better from the inside out. It’s heroic work, but look at the turnover rate of paid caregivers (75% in 2019), and hear stories of how isolated caregiving becomes, and you immediately see that Crisis of Care rear its head again. So what solutions can we design for this struggling caregiving ecosystem? What ways can we ease daily pain points and make caring for someone more peaceful, more intuitive, more affordable?  

This is the space that’s beautifully open and a space I live in every day. Begging for innovations and design from people who care about people—and who want us all to live better longer. 

It’s not that eyewear for millenials wasn’t important; I just started thinking about my dad.