Industrial design students help senior citizens

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)— Industrial design students at Virginia Tech have been working with local senior citizens to come up with solutions to make everyday tasks a little easier to do.

On Friday, those teams demonstrated their final prototypes to WDBJ7.

“I thought that was a really neat idea,” said Warm Hearth Village Resident Mike Bircher. “It was just interesting to work with the students and see them being able to take those challenges the residents have and come up with design solutions to meet those challenges.”

The students helped to find those solutions for people like Bircher.

“They look at aging in place as an issue and go out and meet with seniors, residents at Warm Hearth and really try and understand how they live,” said Akshay Sharma, an instructor overseeing the students.

Sharma said they have been partnering up with SFCS Architects in Roanoke for about 10 years now to educate students on the importance of focusing on senior citizens and the continually aging Baby Boomers.

“What we really try to teach them here is don’t ever start with a solution,” Sharma said. “You have to really understand why you are answering a question and why is it important to ask that question in the first place.”

“On the front we went with magnets instead of a zipper to make it easier to take on and off,” said Bradley Turner, one of the students in the class.

Turner and colleague Olivia Menezes demonstrated the Resolute Switchback, a bright-colored, reflective, warm vest with high-tech capabilities that’s easy to take on and off.

“A lot of them would leave their Life Alerts at home due to because they were embarrassed by it or they would forget it and then when they were out and about, it didn’t help them at all when they needed it because it was at home,” Turner said. “It was really nice to be able to talk to an actual client and be able to get feedback as well as have it inform our design decisions for the future.”

Turner said a design like this helps to remove the stigma of getting old and allows seniors to keep their freedom.

“To be out and if there was a need, then it would be so simple to have this vest, as a vest and as a device for being able to alert someone in case of a need,” said Bircher.

Bircher said he could see a market for a vest like this, especially because many of the residents like to walk outside at Warm Hearth Village.

“It’s amazing how they can do that in just a short amount of time,” he said. “I’m very impressed with this program.”

The students only had nine weeks to complete their designs.

“As a society, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are taking care of them,” Sharma said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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