A year-long study on what adults 65 and older “really” want and need in life recently concluded. The answer? Love, vitality, work and friendship.

“Co-Designing with Older People” from Los Angeles-based Alive Ventures, a startup studio that launched earlier this year to “fill the product design void for older audiences,” includes 28 specific things older adults want and need. 

They are broken down into 11 common themes — community, time, follow through, mind over body, courage, trust, service and giving, intimacy, transitions, jobs and getting out of bed, and designing strategies — and four topics: love, vitality , work and friendship.

“They want the same things they have always wanted, the same things you want,” report authors wrote. “To love and be loved. To feel useful and help others. To have friends and belong. To get out of bed and feel the thrill of being alive.”

The study involved more than 250 older adults participating in 15 workshops in New York City; New Jersey; Long Island, NY; the California cities of Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Diego and Chula Vista; and northwestern Mississippi.

John Zapolski, founder of Alive Ventures, created the project with Ayse Birsel, owner of New York-based design studio Birsel + Seck. The project was backed by the SCAN Foundation, a nonprofit based in Long Beach, CA, that funds projects to improve the lives of older adults.

“We set out to investigate what really matters to older Americans and how to best engage them in that question. We started with open minds and a co-design framework and were completely blown away by what we found,” Zapolski said. “Older people do not define their lives by decline and decay, and neither should we. It’s time to reconsider old ways of thinking about seniors and recognize the beauty and vitality of our later years.”

In solid terms, older adults want human connections, non-traditional meeting spaces, intellectual stimulation, spaces for artistic expression, travel and experiences, and the ability to share their knowledge and talents.

The study resulted in three major outcomes: market insights about the wants and needs of older people, a repeatable co-design system that encourages older adults to share their experiences and desires, and a community of middle income older people who live in diverse communities.

Insights gained from the report:

  • Older people cannot be reduced to, or defined by, worries.
  • Older people have the most experience in living and we all have much to learn from their experiences.
  • Both a big problem and opportunity are the institutions, services and social constructs that have failed to serve older people. 
  • Older people are looking for different kinds of experiences designed for them, and by them.

“We’re onto something big when we recognize how much life we have to live in our third act and how much older adults have to contribute,” Zapolski said. “Those concepts are foundational to Alive Ventures and our decision to build a community of designers and entrepreneurs around older adults themselves.”