A pop-up hearing aid exposition called HearWeAre. A travel agency that matches older and younger travelers for group adventures. An app that guides outgoing hospital patients through every step of the discharge process. These are a few of the projects presented by students on the final day in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP)’s class Global Aging and the Built Environment. Taught by Joseph Coughlin, the director of the MIT AgeLab, and supported by his team of AgeLab researchers, the class guides students toward understanding the impact of increased longevity on systems and markets and invites them to imagine how they might design better products, services, and infrastructure for an aging society.
The lengthening human lifespan — a trend in industrialized societies since the early 20th century — is often characterized as a crisis, and aging is often discussed as a problem in need of solutions. But in his research and public appearances, Coughlin stresses that longer lives are a boon to individuals as well as an unfulfilled market opportunity.
“A 100-year lifespan is the new normal for many of us. That’s an unqualified achievement,” Coughlin says. “But I think we need to also focus on ensuring and supporting 100 good years of life. There is a market and a need for improving our quality of life as we age that has yet to be meaningfully explored.”