Are You An Elder Hacker?

Are you a hacker? In this case, hacker doesn’t refer to computer programmers. Elder hacking is a phrase coined by Glen Hougan who teaches industrial design. He views an elder hacker as a creative and resourceful repurposer. An elder hacker is able to use common and typically low cost items from office supply or hardware stores to solve everyday problems. A pants hanger holding a cookbook open at eye level or placing a lazy susan in the refrigerator to enable easy reach of everything on the shelf are elder hacker solutions.

Shopping for items that make aging in place simpler are often expensive or employ high-end technology. A fixed income will limit what is purchased. Discomfort with technology may limit an elder adopting a solution. My grandparents lived during the Great Depression. To them, the idea of being resourceful was instilled during childhood and part of their day-to-day lives.

A recent Pew research study found many elders lack digital literacy and comfort with high-end technology. They often see off the shelf solutions as difficult to use, not trustworthy, or they simply don’t address their specific issue. For example, a visit to the Apple App Store finds a number of apps that manage medications. When given to an elder, it may be too difficult to continually enter medications and set up the reminder calendar. A paper option (i.e. calendar on the refrigerator or in the cabinet) is an easier, less expensive, and user-friendly solution.

We all grew up hearing all about generation gaps. The gap between an elder and millennial may feel insurmountable. Elder hacking is an opportunity for the generations to collaborate, be resourceful, and look for solutions to make living longer easier, fun, and a consistent leaning experience.