Zorgbedrijf Antwerpen is the city of Antwerp’s largest care provider, helping 16,000 senior citizens. They wanted to redesign the way their local service centres tackled social isolation among the elderly, as good social relationships are vital to senior citizens’ health, comparable in impact to quitting smoking.
A partner in the European “design-led innovations for active ageing” project, co-financed by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund, they turned to Namahn to help design systems to identify socially isolated seniors living near their centres and re-engage them with society.
There were two key constraints: on the one hand, these new systems would have to be both co-created with and used within the local service centres. Moreover, they could not require additional staff costs.
The first step was literature analysis, which helped differentiate between social loneliness, or lack of contacts, and emotional loneliness, or lack of connection. Field visits delved into the issue further, and showed that it is mainly emotional loneliness that prevents seniors from visiting local service centres.
The main problem, in fact, was that the elderly lacked a sense of purpose in life. We therefore reframed the project around a central question: “How can we help seniors rediscover purpose in life through meaningful social contact?”.
We presented three concepts to answer this question via a series of co-design workshops with both caregivers and seniors. The result was unanimous – all participants opted for involving the elderly in the day-to-day operation of the service centres, encouraging them to develop healthy and meaningful relationships with others, explore new interests, learn new skills, and increase their sense of purpose.
We elaborated this idea further via a follow-up workshop with Zorgbedrijf management, resulting in a toolkit for service centre staff to set up their own initiatives across the company’s 42 service centres.
Several self-organisation initiatives have already materialised as a result: seniors now run the service centres’ cafeterias during the weekend, for example, while in one service centre they organise the dancing course.
Seeing the success of the approach, Zorgbedrijf Antwerpen recruited new staff whose responsibilities include helping service centres set up further self-organisation initiatives, helping the self-organisation concept spread to other centres.