Today I am very happy to participate in the 8th edition of Foritaal, the Italian Forum on Ambient Assisted Living. This year the Forum is in Genoa, one of the most fascinating cities in Italy, yet still quite off the main tourist radar. The city is famous as the birth place of Christopher Columbus, and is an amazing combination of colors, flavors, contrasts, with a beautiful harbour, magnificent buildings and houses nestled up the hillside.
The Forum is held at the Architecture Department of the University of Genoa, and started today with a round table on what it means to be older adults today in Italy. The speakers talked about the challenges of making districts, houses and apartments more accessible to senior citizens, still keeping a special focus on the empowerment of the people. Seniors face a number of age-related changes that have to be taken into account in the design of living accommodations: for instance, they may have motor impairments that makes it difficult to walk or climb stairs, they may experience hearing loss, they may have chronic conditions that require to take medicines, and they may experience loneliness. Now, nobody wants to live in a house resembling a hospital, nor even older adults of course!
So, how are architects changing and evolving to face these challenges? In an ideal world, an architect could employ the most innovative solutions to build the perfect accommodation. It may be not so difficult to design ex-novo the perfect house for ageing well. Indeed, the real challenge is to work on what’s already there, which is the great majority of the situations in the real-life.
But what are the regulations in the Liguria Region and how do they sustain the renovation of existing living structures? For instance, there’s a regional law, Legge 38, which regulates the renewal of existing buildings and specifically the creation of temporary solutions for specific problems, addressing the challenge of increasing the social inclusion of older adults, for instance by renovating students’ accommodations (i.e. social housing project). Another regional law, Legge 15, regulates the use of regional fundings for interventions on all the existing buildings (both public and private) with a special focus on interventions addressed to people with disabilities, among which older adults.
ANACI, Associazione Nazionale Amministratori Condominiali e Immobiliari, developed a project in Genoa in about a dozen of blocks of apartments, involving the doorkeepers in the assistance of older adults living in those buildings. The doorkeepers help seniors to do the shopping, go to the farmacy to buy medicines, stay in contact with family and informal caregivers. The focus here is on the real problems of senior citizens in the everyday life, to offer a service that can improve their quality of life.
In the last years the Municipality of Genoa has devoted a special attention to the problems of older adults, creating a dedicated task-force to provide citizens with concrete answers. At first, besides the initial enthusiasm for the project, the team faced also important challenges, such as some sort of internal resistance to the change and the widespread ignorance about the real problems of the citizens. For instance, there was a vast lack of perception of the great number of people with visual impairments in the city. So, the task-force organized a series of training courses dedicated to “experts”, such as architects and builders, with the goal of raising their awareness of the main challenges of accessibility in the city, in which participants could try and move around key points of the city using a wheelchair (which had to be very difficult for sure, given that Genoa is full of uphill slopes).
And what about the University? What has been done to educate students about these matters? Italia Longeva is a national research network on ageing and especially on active ageing. One of the most widespread problems is the lack of a culture of ageing, that results in the fact that age-related problems are perceived suddenly as real problems only when they prevent people to do what they were used to do in their everyday life: it’s something that strikes the people all of a sudden. In addition, senior citizens are not invalids and do not perceive themselves as such: they need to increase as much as possible the period of autonomous and independent life, without suffering discriminating interventions. At the University of Genoa there’s now a project called “Adotta un anziano“, in which young students (in their twenties) dedicate their time to senior citizens, following them in their everyday activities, interviewing them and focusing on the problems in their daily life. It turned out that one of the main problems is that seniors can hardly cope with the management of the house, which is perceived as too big; another problem was related to the toilets especially designed for people with disabilities, which, ironically, are inaccessible, too big and complicated to use.
There’s also a collaboration running now between the University of Genoa and the Università della Terza Età, in which older adults were able to test the solutions and prototypes created by the students.
So, a lot of food for thought for the opening session of Foritaal 2017! In the afernoon there will be a session on the national strategies and actions employed in the field of technologies to enhance the quality of life of older citizens, and then the results of two projects will be presented: Design4All and ActiveAgeing@Home, in which i3 at Fondazione Bruno Kessler participated. Tomorrow there will be other thematic sessions, and in the morning I will give a talk about how we, in the ECOMODE project, faced the design of multimodal interaction with mobile technology for older people.