Eat Together

Food and Friendship Service for the Elderly

 

Design Opportunity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concept

 

The world is ageing. According to the United Nations, the population of elderly is expected to double to 2 billion by 2050. In Denmark, half of this population is malnourished.

Malnourishment deters recovery and increases susceptibility to diseases - creating a pattern of repeated hospitalisation in the elderly. As they return home from the hospital, poor eating habits ensue. Healthcare workers attempt to mediate but find their efforts limited. Eating alone has a big part to play in nutritional neglect and appetite loss.

Currently, community interventions designed to create social opportunities for the elderly are in place but are not popular. The municipality and community groups try to reach out to elderly with nutritional risk but are challenged by the difficulties in identifying the elderly and attracting them to participate. 

How might we create more effective social eating opportunities for elderly who live alone?

 

Eat Together is a food and friendship delivery service designed for elderly who live alone/are at risk of malnutrition. 

 

See Research

See Process

 

A crowdsourced data platform contributed by healthcare professionals, the municipality and caretakers use common risk factors to identify elderly who are at high risk of malnutrition i.e. live alone, is above 65 years old, whose family lives far away, loss of spouse and afflicted with chronic diseases.

 

The service will partner with elderly support groups in the community so as to leverage on their existing networks and appoint ambassadors who could reach out to the elderly with greater ease. The ambassador will invite the identified elderly to join the service, assess the elderly's interests and group them based on similar interests - making them pen pals.

 

With each meal, the elderly receives information about the elderly in their group, postcards from them and a postcard to write back. The postcards come with prompts to facilitate the flow of conversation. Postcards are circulated through the service.

Through the service, the elderly will get to know their pen pals better. Once a fortnight, they have the option to 'eat together' with their pen pals if they opt to have their meals delivered to the meeting point. Friendships and social eating opportunities may be forged organically from thereon.

Research

I. Elderly

 

Elderly who have/had appetite loss were interviewed and shadowed to understand their lifestyle routines, eating habits and food perceptions. Almost all of them live alone, with no or distant family members. The elderly vary significantly in their technological capabilities. The key insight found was that wider the elderly’s social network, the greater the number of opportunities for eating. Or rather, eating alone demotivates the elderly from eating well or eating on time. Maintaining active interests was integral in creating social avenues to connect with others.

"When I don't go out, I just put together a smorrebrod in the evening. It's just too much hassle to cook and clean without my husband around."

- Eva, 74 

 
 

Current social experiences organized for the elderly typically put people together because they are old, neglecting their interests, which causes them to feel disinterested and disengaged. Transport is arranged as majority of the elderly have mobility issues, thus limiting their ability to go out on their own.

"I'm old but she's elderly. We have nothing in common."

- Julia, 80

 

"They don't talk to each other."

- Christine, Nutritional Specialist & Caretaker 

 

II. Healthcare System & the Municipality

 

Healthcare professionals provided further insight into the backdrop of appetite loss, as they recount stories of elderly who are repeatedly hospitalized as they maintain poor lifestyles living alone.

 

"They get dehydrated from lying down all day. When they suddenly get up, they feel dizzy. Only last week, an elder was found 7 hours after she fell."

- Lisa, Senior Clinical Nurse for Geriatrics 

 

Soon, patterns began to surface regarding similarities amongst the elderly who are malnourished.

 

"We can often tell who are the ones we will see again. They usually live alone and are not very motivated to take care of themselves."

- Anna, Patient Health Assistant

 

Local hospitals e.g. Herlev Hospital and Gentofte Hospital and the Kobenhavn Kommune (government social services) have nutrition support programmes, extending from the hospital and community centers to the home but find their efforts limited by the elderly who refuse help. In particular, Kobenhavn Kommune delivers meals to the homes of the elderly.

 

"My mother will never say yes to meals-on-wheels. She doesn't want to look sick."

- Allan, 65

"It is difficult. Frederiksberg Kommune couldn't find many elderly to participate in their nutrition-enhancing program despite knowing there are loads of elderly with nutritional issues in the community." 

- Christine, Nutritional Specialist & Caretaker

 

The potential of social opportunities in subverting appetite loss has been harnassed by recent eating programs. However, taking the step to allow strangers into the home seem rather overwhelming to the elderly.

"We haven't received many subscriptions..."

- Gina, The Good Kitchen

"She is really self-conscious and hates letting strangers into her home."

- Christine, Nutritional Specialist & Caretaker

Process

 

 

How might we motivate elderly to eat by reviving emotion and memories with others to the food they eat alone?

 

 

More than 50 ideas were generated based on the initial findings - they center on creating 'presence of others' during mealtimes, food gifting, food memories and social eating. The earliest prototypes allowed for a comparison between creating stronger bonds between elderly and family vs. creating opportunities to connect with others via a meal delivery platform. The response towards the former was poor as their existing family were too distant, and they were indifferent to them.

The emerging concept is a friendship service that accompanies the existing meals-on-wheels program. Later prototypes focused on different facets of the service i.e.

 

 

How might we create acceptance/excitement towards a food and friendship service amongst the elderly? 

How might we support the elderly in striking conversations and making friends with others via the service? What would excite them?


 

The service was co-created with caretakers, HCPs and designers of elderly meal delivery services while its prototypes were tested with the elderly. The elderly were invited to experience meals being 'delivered' with exchange of postcards.

 

 

Team                               

 

Samantha Lim for Master's thesis

Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design

Duration    

 

10 weeks

Advisors     

 

Special Thanks