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Understanding Senior Needs

Interview with seniors at the Weinberg Center for Balanced Living

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin
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I am a part of Team Young Adults, a diverse bunch of curious design thinkers from New York University collaborating together to design solutions that will help prevent falls in older adults. We want to facilitate in helping them live a healthy and young life. We aim at building solutions based on cross-discipline knowledge and promoting awareness. We aim at eliminating the stigma associated with existing fall prevention tools and solutions.

I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Weinberg Center for Balanced Living as part of my school group: NYU Poly Projects. The Poly Project initiative aims to provide regular and sustained opportunities for NYU students to engage in community service. As my Team Young Adults is conducting Research on fall prevention I grabbed the opportunity to gain insights.  I will describe my  entire experience volunteering at the Center as edifying and gratifying. 

About the Centre:

The Weinberg Center for Balanced Living at the Manny Cantor Center provides empowering classes, workshops, and social events focused on maintaining personal health, engaging the senses, and motivating its members.


I was  volunteering with my group on a Monday afternoon for serving Lunch to around 200 seniors. The Center is funded by the Jewish Community, but since it is located so close to Chinatown, a large portion of the seniors coming in are Asians. Our task was serving food to these seniors-from setting the table to plating to final serving. Food consisted of fish, pasta, broccoli and carrot salad.

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The Interview

Post meal service, the volunteers spent their time chatting with the seniors on each of the tables. I classified the people I interviewed as: The age conscious, the fall conscious and the health conscious.

The Age Conscious:  This particular lady (late 60’s) but dressed as a twenty-year-old, particularly said that she disliked being called or referred to as old or a ‘senior’. Her story she had fallen in the past but it was a minor fall according to her. The doctor had not advised her to use a cane or a walker or a rollator for any condition, yet her fear of falling again and being prescribed a cane by the doctor led her to use a shopping cart as her walking companion. She says “It helps me for a number of reasons”:

  • It gives stability and support
  • It does not make one look old, I look like a woman just shopping
  • I won’t fall again and get the cane which would make me look old

The Fall Conscious: A couple of people from the Center fell in this category.  The first one was a lady who was the friend of the age conscious. She had fallen terribly in the past. She had tried almost everything from the cane to the walker and rollator, but none gave the support and comfort she needed. She said canes were too short, the ones with the support balls at the bottom were no good for her, “they would wobble” she says. The walker and rollator gave her a hunch back. On her friend’s advice (the age conscious lady) she tried the shopping cart. She say “So far so good”. No hunch, right stability and right height. “It works for me”. When told about our project and the research we are working on, she said “I will be happy to test your prototype”.  “Be sure to address the pain-points I mentioned”. Two other gentlemen, interviewed said that they had close calls, they were on the verge of falling but had managed to catch themselves. Yet they feared falling. After their close encounters, they had made a few changes in their lifestyle. One of them mentioned, I switched to sneakers, they give good grip. The other mentioned, “I walk slow now, used to be a fast walker but now I tread carefully”.

The Health Conscious: At the corner of the hall was this group of Asian ladies playing cards. None of them had fallen or were at risk. None of them had ever used any kind of mobility device. When asked, what their secret was. Each one said “Eat healthy, exercise regularly, go to the doctor and listen to the doctor, you will never have problems. When asked whether they would be ok using a cane or a walker if the doctor asks them to do. Their response was unanimous: “When you reach a certain age and you need certain things to make your life better, there is no shame in using them it’s for your own good”. 


Even though the categories of people were contrasting, yet there was a common link or theme tying them together. Almost everyone is their own doctor, coming up with own remedies and fall prevention tools. There is a need for better fall prevention tools/supporting or stability devices. There is a stigma with these assistive devices in the age conscious whereas the health conscious are more than willing to use it since their health is top most priority.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

There are three categories of seniors: Age Conscious, Fall Conscious, Health Conscious. Almost everyone is their own doctor, coming up with own remedies and fall prevention tools. There is a need for better fall prevention tools/supporting or stability devices. There is a stigma with these assistive devices in the age conscious vs. the health conscious who are willing to use them.

Tell us about your work experience:

Graduate Student at New York University. Design Thinker with background in Technology Management, Engineering. Research Lead of Design for America Project- NYU Freedge combating food insecurity.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Tuba Naziruddin for these great insights. I love that you went volunteering and it's great that people are excited to have you come back with some ideas to test. :-) I thought your 3 categories were really super interesting. During ideation, it'd be important to think about how we might design solutions with all these users in mind? There might not be a one fits all solution but knowing about different users is key. I like your comment: "Almost everyone is their own doctor, coming up with own remedies and fall prevention tools. " It was interesting to see the work around created by the lady with the shopping cart. Taking into account social stigma and emotions is definitely important. See for example Jimena's post where she mentioned how her grandmother does not want to be seen in a wheel chair:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Tuba Naziruddin . Great post! I loved that we learned from the interviewees in your post while it also captured a glimpse into their lives, what they do on a regular basis with their peers. What a nice space for lunch!

I find the categories interesting. I think rather than distinct categories there is cross over. Why wouldn't the seniors in the Age Conscious and Fall Conscious groups also be health conscious? Also why wouldn't the seniors in the Health Conscious group be at risk for falling? It would be interesting to learn more about these folk. I wonder if culture comes into play in terms of fear of stigma, and also approach to exercise at this age? Did the Asian women say what type of exercise they do? Is it a group experience?

I found it really interesting that some of the women tried out different devices to help them feel steady when walking. "Almost everyone is their own doctor, coming up with their own fall prevention tools." When the one woman said she didn't like canes because they were too short my thought was that she was not instructed on how to use a cane properly. (I had the experience of using a cane for a few weeks and actually was not shown how to use it properly in my doctor's office, and it was corrected by a physical therapist. The assistant working with my doctor measured it too short initially. It had to be lengthened.) Learning how to use something correctly helps.
Also, do all folk who come up with their own prevention tools consult with professionals first? Are they told they don't need these things? If so, since they feel they need something there is a disconnect.

Really interesting post!

Photo of An Old Friend

Hey Bettina Fliegel do you mind if I ask why you needed a cane?

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin

Well even I was surprised by the trend of being your own doctor, I guess people trust their own intuitions and designs more than the ones provided by the medical industry since its generic and not customized.
Thanks for the wonderful comments.
Here is link to the preferred shopping cart :!2966!3!166589002792!!!g!82129169877!&s_kwcid=AL!2966!3!166589002792!!!g!82129169877!&ef_id=WLBjAQAAAVK9MKdb:20170306165146:s

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin

Thanks Anne Laure! Rodney's post on the empathy exercise provides great insights on the pain points and stigma. I guess doing an exercise on how these self prescribed tools like the shopping cart might give new insights and a comparative analysis

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin

Thanks Bettina. You should stop by there someday ( The Centre is on East Broadway, F Line) . The food was great. There are spin classes, power yoga, Pilates, salsa and everything under the sun to keep one engaged. Thanks for your kind comments.

Photo of Khuyen Bui Gia

Tuba Naziruddin I really like the shopping cart idea! It really helps that the cart is something that many are already familar with, thereby reducing the stigma against devices. A few suggestions to look into:
- What existing objects that elderly people often interact with that are similar shape / size / functions like the shopping cart?
- How might we "piggyback" on the design of everyday normal thing with a fall-prevention function?
It will be nice if we can test out something like the BShoes with these 3 groups and see how they respond to it!

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin

Khuyen Bui Gia definitely devices like the BShoes are an added asset, but again it is back to the senior needs, may be the fall conscious and age conscious best suit this category. Believe it or not these groups are willing to test our prototypes. Also check Anne Laure's post on Mobility Aids:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

It is great that they agree to test prototypes! Do you visit the center regularly as a volunteer?

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin

Hi Bettina, Yes I do the staff is warm and welcoming. I will be going there next week.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Tuba.
I just posted this:
I am wondering if the seniors you met have ever received or found a Fall Prevention Checklist to use online? I spoke to some seniors and they never were given a checklist and do not look for tips online.

I was speaking to Sanjana on comments in her post.
She said that the seniors she met with did not receive a physical checklist but heard a few things from their doctors, and learned from friends, word of mouth.

When you meet the seniors can you ask them? I linked many on the post and if you want share with them.

I am wondering because there is a lot of information available, tips and advice etc. Are people accessing it and using it? As I meet seniors I am going to keep asking them about this.

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin

Hi Bettina, that is a very interesting point. In our problem definition phase, my team and I were pondering on the same thing that the doctors know what to do, the caregivers know what to do, but the seniors do they really know what to do? Are the following instructions. In my research the health conscious group were the ones rigorously following a checklist. The age conscious not so much.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

What checklist do the health conscious follow? Is it a list of professional advice?

Do the age conscious know that there are checklists but disregard them?

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