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“I’m young blood in an old container”

Allies in Aging Quick Dive

February 17-23 was National 75+ Week, at least, in isolated pockets of Vancouver’s Lower Mainland. Invented by our Lead Designer, 75+ Week promised to celebrate Canada’s oldest and finest with offers of a free book, a lift, or a spring cleaning. And we, as ethnographers, brought it to life with toilet brushes and rental cars. Many of those we attracted weren’t actively involved with services, but were happy for curious visitors.

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Sunrise Medical Clinic
It’s a busy day at Sunrise Medical & Walk-in Clinic. But we found a very warm and welcoming vibe. People come not just for medical attention, but also just to say hello. “We have lots of regulars, mostly seniors, who stop in everyday. It’s just what they do. We’re a community”.

We went from casinos and bingo parlours to medical clinics and malls – and of course, Legion Halls. We hit the streets, tagged along on Meals on Wheels delivery runs and accompanied on an Emergency Room visit. We wanted to capture stories that could prompt fresh insights and conversations for Allies in Aging, a collective impact initiative focused on reducing social isolation among adults over 75 years. We profiled eight men and nine women experiencing a range of pain points, including disappointment, under stimulation, fear, physical pain, a feeling of insignificance, stagnation, and purposelessness. Some were lonely and unaware of existing services that might fill the gap, others were fatigued by playing caregiver to adult children, and many didn’t see themselves as ‘seniors’ at all.

Folks like Bertha and Lauren emerged as the Ego Maintainers – motivated and capable, they seek out opportunities for achievement and self worth, maybe by writing a book or volunteering. ‘Contented Low-Ballers’ like Bob and Bill cope with reduced abilities and narrowed opportunities by lowering their horizons and accepting the status quo. By creating new segments that reflect people’s drive or sense of agency, it became apparent why a segment with similar needs could be so turned off programs that satisfied the other. At the surface, the “Implicit Desirerers” indicate no interest in deeper relationships, but their behaviour suggests otherwise. Mr. Raj represents the “Dissatisfied and Disconnected” – he’s overwhelmed by existential pain and wants someone with an equally philosophical bent to talk to, but finds the system around him to be too focussed on meals and dances. The “Low-energy Lonelies,” like Katie and Emily, want more people in their lives, but are blocked by energy-draining physical pain. On the other hand, the “Joyous Connectors” like Lauren and Kelly have a knack for drawing others out and spreading cheer, but avoid long term commitments. They experience similar barriers to their peers but orient towards a future full of learning, growth, and connection.

As 75+ week drew to a close, we hunkered down with these painpoints, segments and insights and asked ‘What if?’  We identified opportunities like ‘just in-time’ services – imagine celebrating every birthday from 75 on with a delightful gift and conversation about what’s available that suits you at that moment. With longer life expectancies, retirement is no longer a decade of relaxing. What if we normalized more intergenerational interactions about aging and mortality, perhaps with board games that helped families re-imagine what’s possible as we mature? Other opportunities include services that merge practical and intellectual needs – like house cleaners with philosophical conversation prompts, support for children caring for aging parents (Kid-Caregiver classes, anyone?), meal-making supports that leverage food as a form of agency, and one-night stand services for commitment-phobes.

 

We don’t need to wait until the next 75+ Week to chat. What opportunities do you see?

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Natalie Napier

Natalie Napier is Lead Trainer. She holds a BA in International Development, an MA in …

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