How Stanford University is Revolutionizing the Aging Process


Photo credit: Sha Yao, Academy of Art University

Mobility. It’s an issue often discussed among those involved in housing and caring for people in their later years. But the issue is less prevalent among those who have yet to confront mobility issues in their own lives. Like college students.


Stanford University is bridging the gap between students and challenges confronting the aging population through its second-annual design competition that will showcase innovations for the senior population. It plans to do so through a partnership that involves startup accelerator Aging2.0, more than 140 professors across disciplines, and hundreds of students around the globe.

“There hasn’t been enough innovation in the aging market and for the 50-plus demographic,” said Stephen Johnston, co-founder of Aging2.0.

Stanford’s Center on Longevity is partnering with Aging2.0, which has made significant headway of late on fostering ideas to solve common problems associated with aging such as access to transportation, management of finances and coordination with caregivers. Last year, Aging2.0 selected 11 companies to launch a Generator Founders program that spans and provides support to companies like Lift Hero and Lively (both of which have partnered with mainstream senior living providers), and more recently partnered with Formation Capital on a million-dollar startup fund, Generator Ventures, toward the same goal.


For the university, Stanford sees the opportunity to collaborate with innovators around the world and solve problems that are rapidly arising due to the senior baby boom that is already well underway in some countries including the U.S. and is quickly approaching in other countries.

Last year, the contest netted a host of innovative ideas, with the winning design “Eatwell,” by Sha Yao of San Francisco’s Academy of Art University—featuring utensils designed specifically for those suffering from dementia.

Among 52 entries from 31 universities across 15 countries, Eatwell was selected for the $10,000 grand prize in the contest. The designer chose a solid blue color for the bowl to steer from patterns that can lead dementia patients to believe — based on visual cues — there may still be food in the bowl. Blue, the designer concluded, was appropriate because it does not conflict with colors typically found in food.

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“This was designed with how Alzheimer’s patients handle food in mind,” said Ken Smith, challenge director, who oversees the competition.

A second-place design, winning the $5,000 prize in last year’s competition, served a similar population. The design: a spoon that electrically stimulates taste buds to encourage eating.

This year, the contest is focused on enabling mobility across the lifespan with the goals being to reduce sedentary lifestyle, encourage physical movement and reduce barriers to mobility that currently exist in homes and communities.

“We’re moving to a society, where by 2030 we will have more people over 65 than under 15,” Smith said. “This is a major change and is unprecedented. … This is a global challenge.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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