Senior Spotlight

The Lessons of Designing with Seniors

Donna Booher, award winner Dr. June Fisher and Professor Richard Gomes at the Aging2.0 conference. JUDY GODDESS/INGLESIDE-EXCELSIOR LIGHT

Mid-November brought the Aging2.0 OPTIMIZE conference to San Francisco, a global network for innovators in aging. It attracted tech start-ups looking for partners and funding, and venture capitalists in search of new projects. As someone accustomed to the format of 90-minute presentations and roundtables at conferences addressing societal needs, Aging2.0s schedule of five-minute pitches was exhilarating. It seems that an astonishing amount of information can be conveyed in a five-minute pitch.

In the earlier days of technology, say the 1980s, technology for seniors focused on helping nursing homes manage the care of their frail, elderly patients. However, as more seniors decide to age at home and remain active in their communities, the industry is being forced to adapt.

This evolving focus was evident at the conference.

While some start-ups focused on systems for improving patient monitoring, others, such as watch and pendant alert systems, home robots, a fall-cushioning belt and powered clothing were designed for the seniors aging at home.

Keynote speaker Dr. Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, and author of “The Longevity Economy,” summarized the challenge facing the field. 

Technology for the elderly must move beyond its focus on treating disability and sickness, he reminded the crowd. 

Certainly seniors need help with some tasks, but where do fun, sexuality, growth and contributing to society come in, he asked. 

Successful entrepreneurs need to listen to and involve seniors in creating the new products and services the community wants.

His message resonates with San Franciscan Dr. June Fisher, a mentor to students in San Francisco State University’s design department and to numerous young designers in the Bay Area. 

“Design with us, not for us,” Fisher said.
“Don’t tell us what we need, listen to us; include us in the planning process from the beginning. Products need to reflect the needs of people they’re designed for.”

Fisher added, “While I appreciate the technical skills of design students and professionals, I don’t want a 23-year-old telling me what I need. It has to be a mutual relationship where elders set the agenda and participate in the development of those products.”

At the close of the conference, Professor Ricardo Gomes, from SFSU’s design program, led a surprised Fisher to the podium to receive the applause of the assembly and the Aging2.0 2018 Leadership & Influence Award.

Tai Chi at Cayuga Playground

Curious about tai chi? Studied tai chi, but need help with some of those positions? Master Wei Sheng Chen will be at the Cayuga Playground at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27, Dec. 4 and Dec. 18. Master Chen was trained by the finest masters in China, and has been invited to the Playground by the Cayuga Community Connectors.

Raising Our Voices Together 

Singing in a choir reduces loneliness and increases interest in life among seniors. Choir members have known this intuitively for years. But now, thanks to a five-year Community of Voices study supported by a federal research grant, we have the supporting data.  

The University California, San Francisco, the San Francisco Community Music Center and the Department of Aging and Adult Services recruited 400 San Francisco seniors to sing together in neighborhood choirs. Dr. Julene Johnson, associate dean for research and professor in the UCSF School of Nursing, is the lead author of the study. 

“There’s a high percentage [of older adults] who experience loneliness and social isolation,” Johnson said. “There’s a need to develop novel approaches to help older adults stay engaged in the community and also stay connected.”

The arts are a relatively low-cost way to keep them engaged. 

The 12 choirs created during the COV study continue to sing, and to recruit new members who are 55 and older. Two of these choirs are in our area: the choirs at I.T. Bookman Center and at the OMI Senior Center.  

For further information, contact the Community Music Center at (415) 647-6015, the I.T. Bookman Center at (415) 586-8020 or the OMI Senior Center at (415) 334-5550.

Happy Anniversary METCC!

MET Community Connectors, a project of the Merced Extension Triangle Neighborhood Association, recently held a festive potluck to celebrate its first anniversary.

METCC offers free Always Active exercise classes every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 10 – 11 a.m. in the Golden Gate Church of Christ community hall at 201 Head St. Coffee, conversation and classes are offered in the hour after class. Always Active, a specially-designed program for seniors, combines cardio, strength training, flexibility and balance. Classes are free and open to the community.

To learn more about METCC, contact Marina Lazzara at (415) 821-1003 ext. 116 or

Senior Spotlight columnist Judy Goddess can be reached at or (415) 759-1994.

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