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IMechE calls on designers to consider the elderly

22 May 2015

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers asks engineers to ensure infrastructure projects and household products are designed with older users in mind.

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The new report - 21st Century Engineering for an Ageing Population- makes five key recommendations about how engineering and engineers could play a role in meeting the needs of the increasing number of older people in the UK.

“The number of people living past 85 is set to double in the next 20 years, so there is an increasingly pressing need for Government and industry to step up their efforts to cater for older users," says the report's author, Professor Garth Johnson, who is also an expert in age-related matters at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Biomedical Engineering Association.

“All major contracts for public infrastructure should have an earmarked budget to cater for older users, more work should be done to promote innovation for older user-friendly products and companies should consider harnessing the expertise of older or retired engineers when developing household products, vehicles or other devices for mainstream use.

“Sometimes relatively minor adjustments can make a huge difference, for example clearer public signage or grab handles, but in the future driverless cars and robots in the home could allow older people to live more mobile or independent lives for longer.”

The report’s recommendations are:
- Government and industry must ensure that all major contracts for public infrastructure have an earmarked budget to cater for older users and customers.
- The UK Government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, should put out a call for bids to create state-of-the-art design initiatives for older user-friendly ideas and products.
- Companies developing household products, vehicles or other devices for mainstream use should introduce quotas in product design teams, to include, wherever possible, a significant proportion of older people – some of whom may be retired professional engineers.
- Standards relating to engineering products should also be reviewed to ensure that they are keeping pace with the needs of their ever-growing application to older people in the UK and the rest of the world.
5- Universities, colleges and industry should ensure that training of engineers and designers includes information about the functional abilities and restrictions of older people.

The number of older people is fast increasing – in 1985 just 15 percent of the population was over 65 years old, this rose to 17 percent in 2010 and is set to reach 23 percent by 2035. In terms of the population of 85+, this is expected double over the next 20 years and is predicted to treble in the next 30 years.

To read the full report, click here.

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