What are the biggest design challenges that Ireland will face over the next 20 years? Peak oil? Global warming? Exiting the bailout? Most blogs and futurists occupy themselves with these and other resource-related questions. However, there is a change happening all around us – and to each of us – which is set to transform Irish society in a way that will affect every facet of Irish life: Ireland, and each one of us, is ageing.
Not only are we ageing, but we are moving from the countryside into the cities. Since 2006, the number of people over 65 in Ireland has increased by 15%: over the next 20 years, the proportion of the population over 65 will double from 11% today (the lowest in the EU) to the European average of over 20%.
As we age, we lose some functions and we gain others, but importantly, we each do this in a unique way. Existing services, cityscapes and technologies are not designed to take into account this reality. It is important to recognise that much disability arises not from an innate property or deficiency of an individual but because a tool or environment is designed with a particular human in mind – usually an adult, right-handed male without mobility problems. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is not king, but “a clumsy and useless stranger among his subjects”. Disability is not universal as we age, but as 62% of Irish people believe that Ireland is not an age-friendly society, perhaps we need to do something differently.
At Trinity College, Dublin and the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing, we strive to discover new approaches to meeting the challenges and opportunities that an ageing society brings. Over the next couple of weeks, Dr David Robinson and Pivot Dublin will present invited contributions from leaders in the fields of ageing, urban design and health technologies to explore these new approaches.
Dr Robinson is a geriatrician at St James’s Hospital, with interests in community and environmental geriatric medicine, healthy ageing and dementia. He graduated from Trinity College in 1996 and trained in Queensland, Australia and the South Dublin Geriatric Medicine training scheme. He has published on factors involved in healthy ageing in Dublin, and the ethics of resource allocation for Ireland’s older adults.