Growing old gracefully

Growing old gracefully

Patricia Moore knows ageing needn't stop us living a quality life after spending three years as an 85-year-old woman

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Patricia Moore today
Patricia Moore today
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Patricia Moore was old long before her time. She was 26 when she began living as an 85-year-old woman for a social experiment that lasted more than three years.

A television make-up designer helped to transform her looks. "After four hours, I looked into the mirror; I saw my grandmother, but it was actually me," the Irish-American professor recalled in Hong Kong earlier this month. She was invited to give a talk at the Smart Ageing Symposium.

"I was starting my career as an industrial designer in New York City," she said. "All our briefs were to design for people under 40 who were white males."

She asked how people such as her grandmother would be able to benefit from their designs. "My colleagues would roll their eyes and shake their heads, telling me, 'Pattie, we don't design for those people'," she said. "I was haunted by the answer. I thought, if the world's biggest firm is not considering 'those people', who is? I knew I had to do something."

She lived "in character", travelling to 116 cities in the US and Canada, from May 1979 to October 1982.

The first time she walked on New York streets as an old woman she became "invisible", said Moore, who trained in industrial design, biomechanics and social gerontology - the physical, mental and social changes in people as they grow older.

"Taxi drivers went right past me [when I was waving for a taxi]," she said. Moore noticed people were nice to her if she dressed as a wealthy woman, but not when pretending to be homeless or middle-class. She was mugged twice and once nearly killed. "One night, I was beaten up by seven boys aged about 10years old. I thought it was the end of me," said Moore, who has spent more than 30 years studying, researching and improving the quality of life of the elderly.

Now president of Moore Design Associates, she turned 60 in October. Moore still works to improve designs that include, rather than exclude, the "elders". She avoids using words like "elderly" and "old": she feels they're discriminatory.

She has shared her experiences around the world, and works for many industries as an "inclusive design" consultant, to ensure products and services are accessible and usable to as many people as possible.

With her expertise in the field, she immediately spotted what was "wrong" when she walked into a cafe in Kowloon. "It's too loud here," she said, referring to the harsh noise of a mechanical coffee machine. "If you're wearing a hearing aid, this kind of noise will even be louder, making it harder to speak to someone.

"And this mug has only one handle: it's too heavy for an elder with arthritis to hold."

She adds: "We should change our concept of looking at elders as patients, and see them as consumers who deserve to live a quality life. We should offer them choices in our everyday designs, so they'll have more control of their lives.

"As young people, learn to respect the elders and utilise your power to help them live a happy life."

Patricia Moore was at the Smart Ageing Symposium, co-organised by the Social Enterprise Summit and Make a Difference, at the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture

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