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The “geriatric generation,” the “baby boomers,” the “elderly market,” the “aging population;” call it what you will but the global average age is rising and is quickly becoming a common topic in the medical and consumer world.

What Does this Mean?
As this generation age they create a much greater demand for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device products than experienced ever before. Baby Boomers might be more active than their predecessors, but they are not necessarily the healthier generation. They are more likely to be obese, have diabetes1, or have high blood pressure than the previous generation at similar ages. People are living longer but are not necessarily living better.

With advancing technology in the medical industry, equipment can often be complicated and difficult to operate. It is becoming increasingly popular for patients to self- medicate; especially when diseases such as Type II Diabetes are on the rise. The inability for older people to use or access public transport is also putting higher strain on the development of telemedicine devices; creating an opportunity for doctors to treat patients remotely.

Medical devices represent an extraordinarily varied product group; ranging from simple disposable supplies such as face masks and syringes through to surgical implements, patient-treatment and monitoring instruments. The operability and understanding of the packaging2 for devices and medicines also need to be functional.

A recent study carried out by CCD3 showed that often it is the carers of patients who can struggle with the use of medical devices too. Highlighting that ergonomic design will not just help the older user, but also the carers and medical professionals who frequently have to learn how to operate new technologies with little to no training.

So What Is It Actually Like for Older Users?
Regardless of health, everyone will eventually notice a gradual decline in some abilities. A deterioration in eyesight is usually the most common symptom of age. We become more long sighted and can struggle with reading small writing and seeing objects close to us. Structural changes in the joints, muscles, tendons, blood supply and nervous system can lead to a loss of dexterity. Tasks which require fine detail and a steady hand can become more of a challenge to older people. A loss in muscle repair and slow deterioration can also result in loss of strength and short-term memory difficulties are often reported.

Put Yourself in Their Position…
You’re 83 and consider yourself relatively healthy. You take your daily vitamin tablets to try and prevent future illness. First you struggle to remember which tablets you are supposed to take today. You then wonder if you had actually already taken them. Two come in a bottle and two come in blister packaging. Firstly you find it hard to read which the correct tablets are then you struggle to open the bottle top as it has a safety cap. Next you try the blister packaging. The metal foil has been made too flexible and pulling back on the packaging initially does not pierce the foil. After a number of attempts the foil splits but it is a difficulty to remove the tiny pill from the plastic. When you drop it on the floor it is impossible for you to see. Better start again.

Now imagine you suffer from diabetes on top of these symptoms.

You need to take daily medication that is life-saving; without it you could go blind, lose a limb or even die. The blood supply to your extremities has been reduced, making it even more difficult for you handle small objects. You need to check your blood sugar level before and after every meal. You have monitor your food intake, inject yourself with insulin and you have to learn how to read and understand the devices that monitor your health. All of these tasks require a certain degree of strength, dexterity, vision and memory.

Diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, Parkinson’s and dementia are all examples of diseases common among older people and the chances of developing any one of them increases as we age. There are many more. Each disease presents the sufferer with a different set of symptoms, leaving the administration of even the simplest of medications often impossible to some.

With a huge variety in skills, both physically and mentally, understanding not just the needs of the user but also their capabilities is a key step in designing a successful medical device or product. CCD4 are experts in empathic design. It has a wealth of experience in human behaviour and have conducted user testing and modelling for a number of products and services. Their team of psychologists, ergonomists and designers are passionate that the all users should be the focus of design. It understands the importance of using Ergonomics in the early design stages and that the cost of getting it wrong can be huge.

References
1http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26116470
2http://www.healthcarepackaging.com/applications/healthcare/accessibility-medical-packaging-learning-people-impairments
3http://www.designbyccd.com/portfolio-items/formative-usability-testing-2/
4http://www.designbyccd.com/

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