The U.S. has 78 million baby boomers
either entering or approaching retirement, a trend presenting an enormous challenge for the nation's healthcare system. Area young people are learning about this demographic shift through a program that, if successful, will teach them to develop high-tech tools enabling seniors to age in place.
Students from Shaker Heights High School
, North Olmsted High School
, Cuyahoga Community College
and the University of California, Irvine, are part of the Aeronauts 2000 Intergenerational Project
, which engages science-based learning to understand the aging process and identify technological solutions that foster independent living.
Led by the Center for Intellectual Property, Technology and Telecommunications, Inc. (CIPTT)
, the program draws a correlation between aging and the physiological effects of outer space travel. Student-led field work resulted in a board game where players young and old acquire the resources needed to survive on Mars through questions on aging and the effects of space exploration.
This summer, young contributors also began drafting a multi-purpose vehicle, deep space habitat and diagnostic tools for a video game on long-term spaceflight's relation to the aging process. Student-produced 3D design images will be presented this fall at senior community events as well as a Tri-C conference, notes program director Andrea Johnson.
Johnson, director at CIPTT, says research has made her students sensitive to challenges faced by older generations. As space flight can accelerate health and cognitive issues for astronauts, seniors as they age experience sensory impairment, diminished mental performance and brittle bones. Project participants witnessed these impacts first-hand via bonding exercises with seniors at Eliza Bryant Village
, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA
) and the Tri-C-sponsored Encore Program
"Many seniors feel invisible, disrespected or like they don't have a role in society," says Johnson. "We asked ourselves how kids would respond to a group they would usually dismiss."
Ultimately, the project is preparing "Aernoauts" for technology and healthcare employment, Johnson says. With increased nationwide interest in gerontechnology - the interdisciplinary academic and professional field combing gerontology and technology - students are ready to create innovations that increase quality of life for an aging demographic. Program members are currently designing a cane with a built-in heart rate monitor, representing only one way tomorrow's technology leaders can improve the lives of older adults today.
"Students have creativity that can be harnessed to come up with solutions," says Johnson. "It's a matter of engaging them to get them to focus on an aging population. That kind of innovation is going to position them for future jobs."