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Designing for Self-Sufficiency and Connection in Old Age

MA 22/23
Isolation, Old Age, Self-Sufficiency, Connection, Healthy Dependency, Intergenerational Bonds

Interwoven aims to bring back healthy inter-generational bonds that we lost over the years as a result of self-sufficiency driven innovations and services to address the issues of isolation in old age. Through this project we take a community-first approach to weave small acts of healthy dependency that allow us to build healthy relationships between generations.

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24% people aged 50+ in the UK feel lonely.

2 Million people aged 50+ are projected to feel lonely in the next decade.

However, research shows that every £1 invested in tackling loneliness can save £3 in health costs.

We start with exploring this sense of isolation and loneliness in old age with a cultural, behavioural and social innovation lens. The project takes a narrative-driven approach to understand dimensions of isolation and means of connection. With an aim to explore the value of inter-generational connection, the project dives into the history of inter-generational interactions with a key focus on the drivers of change including changing family structures, globalisation and mobility, technological advances and innovations. We were intrigued by the diminishing inter-generational connection caused as a result of the rise of self-sufficiency enabled by innovations and the resultant stigmatisation of depending on other people. Therefore, we decided to develop a framework model for considering a balanced relationship between self-sufficiency and connection to allow happy and purposeful ageing. 


60 + Participants including

4 Generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z) from

3+ Nationalities (UK, Japan, China, India)

We used experimental conversation through photos, memories exchange and journalling to learn about people’s experiences and gathered over 80 stories. We also explored the factors shaping connection, isolation, loneliness of Baby Boomers in old age. We traced back to their early age experiences to understand the extrinsic and intrinsic influencing factors that defined their trajectory into isolation of connection. The challenges were plentiful and layered. The more we uncovered the more challenging it became to find a key insight that we could work with and deliver value to the area.

At this point in the research we hypothesised to test through stories-

Can Self-Sufficiency lead to Isolation?

We found our hypothesis to be true while also realising the depth and importance of having autonomy for an older adult. We then looked at existing services in the space working towards isolation in old age. We found that there is a general lack of awareness regarding the programs, a communication gap with volunteers due to a limited understanding provided of the complexity of issues, cultural nuances and representations. The volunteer relationship also induces power dynamics and stigma as well as inconsistent activities and low sustainable engagement. Furthermore, lack of evaluation and effective generational understanding causes programs to be unsuccessful in the long term.

We realised that to make a difference and deliver an output, we had to look at the project not from the perspective of simply developing strategies to build connection, but rather developing strategies to decode the relation between self-sufficiency and connection. This helped us develop our own framework of striking the balance between the two.


  • Self-Sufficiency and Autonomy is important for an individual to pursue his life purpose, goals, hopes and stay true to his/her identity. 
  • Increased self-sufficiency enabled by innovations (products, services, etc) have reduced dependencies on other people and therefore reduced inter-generational interaction.
  • Self-Sufficiency is equated with a person's intelligence, ability to stay informed and make own decisions and judgements.
  • Sense of Connection can mean different for different people. However, the key to establishing healthy connections between generations require Understandability, Reciprocity, Value Addition and Power Balance.

Behavioural Impact

  • Stigmatisation of dependence: Depending on innovations enabled people to perform daily tasks independently. Therefore, depending on innovations is considered safe while depending on other human beings is considered weak.
  • Stigmatisation of pity: No older adult  wants interactions born out of pity and obligation from younger generations making them further feel like a burden.
  • Self-Sufficiency as protective behaviour: Being dependent on others requires one to be vulnerable and open to being disappointed. Learning to depend on someone is also a form of accepting influence because it requires letting go and yielding to the other person’s ideas and actions.
  • Connections and Relationships: On the flip side being vulnerable builds stronger relationships by enabling each person involved to have a role to play through effective give and take.

Problem Statement

How might we ensure a balance between self-sufficiency and inter-generational connections for older adults through healthy dependencies to address the issue of isolation in old age?


  • Use Collective Methodologies for building trust, resilience and community
  • Build healthy dependence by building sustainable generational relationships
  • Tangible reflections as incentives of intangible emotional gains


A huge thanks to our tutor John Makepeace for his unwavering support and encouragement throughout the project. We would also like to express our gratitude to all of the faculty members and staff for being a constant source of support. This study would not have been possible without all the kind research participants. We would like to thank each one of them for taking out their precious time and helping us take the project forward.

This project transcends its solution, as it has granted us a profound way understanding the complex behavioural outcomes of services and our capacity to create and facilitate them while staying true to our values as a part of the society.

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