People expect to grow old, but they don’t plan to grow old. Public policy has to do more than just capture people when they can no longer care for themselves. Even if people plan for their older age, there are policy and built barriers preventing the continuation of a “decent life”. And housing is a key barrier. The report, The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design, highlights the issues and provides recommendations. The report recommends an integrated approach to housing, planning and design to support people in later life. It stresses the importance of taking a universal design approach and co-production. Developers, planners and local authorities also have an important role to play. And of course, focusing on older people means that people of all ages are included. While this is a UK project, there are many aspects that apply to other countries including Australia.
The research was conducted jointly by Design Council, Centre for Ageing Better and Social Care Institute for Excellence. The report in PDFwas published in June 2018. The report includes references and resources.
Policy makers and researchers have looked at the issue of older home owners and downsizing a few times now. The picture still looks the same. Whether older Australians want to downsize or stay put, our housing stock is not fit for purpose. For those who want to stay put, their current home is unlikely to support them as they age. This is particularly difficult for renters. For those who are prepared to move, there is nothing suitable to move to – not if they are planning to stay put later on.
When it comes to house size, Bruce Juddand colleagues from UNSW found that retirees generally want three bedrooms for flexibility of lifestyle. Some for visiting family and looking after grandchildren. Others need room for hobbies or a study. Some couples sleep separately for health reasons. Typically, retirees spend more time at home now that they are not working, so space becomes even more important.
What’s interesting in all the studies, it’s generally the size of the yard and house maintenance that needs downsizing, not the home. Those who say they don’t want to move, might consider the idea if there was a more suitable place in their current neighbourhood. And not age-segregated living. However, if industry had rolled out the Livable Housing Design Guidelines as promised, there would be more suitable choices available throughout our housing stock.
Roberta Ryan writes in The Conversation that vested interests are continuing business as usual without reference to demographic and lifestyle changes within the population. They are actively resisting change and arguing against policies to deliver more diverse housing types. Ryan argues that governments need to challenge vested interests that want to keep the status quo. The title of the article is, People want and need more housing choice. It’s about time governments stood up to deliver it. While this article doesn’t mention universal design or accessibility, it is inherent in the argument that governments need to challenge, on all fronts, vested interests that lobby for the status quo to remain.
Environments that include older people include everyone else too. So it’s good to ask older people what works for them. The findings from a Helsinki study indicate that neighbourhood design, public transport and green environments influence mobility and social integration. Mainstream housing design is a key factor in supporting older people to stay within their communities.
The title of the dissertation by Ira Verma is, Housing Design for All? The challenges of ageing in urban planning and housing design – The case of Helsinki. The abstract summarises the findings well.
From the abstract: The results indicate that the neighbourhood design, public transport network and proximity of green environments influence mobility and the sense of integration within a community. Moreover, the length of residency was related to the familiarity of the living environment, which gave residents a sense of security, and supported their activities of daily life. Furthermore, the results show that older residents preferred the local services that were the most accessible ones.
Comprehensive design and a versatile environment with various activities may promote Ageing in Place policies and enhance cross-generational social encounters. Moreover, many obstacles caused by reduced physical and sensory functioning capacities can be lessened by applying Universal Design of the built environment. Architects and urban planners have a major role in designing the city and ensuring that it does not exclude any resident groups. Mainstream housing developments with attention to a variety of resident groups will enhance living at home at old age. Moreover, frail people with high care needs should experience being part of community life. Collaboration with local service providers, schools, cafés and restaurants may enable to providing a variety of activities to the residents in sheltered housing.
Advocates in several countries have been lobbying for mandatory accessible housing standards for many years. At last Habinteg in the UK has succeeded in getting the topic on the government’s agenda.
A forecast for accessible homes, is an important report covering all the key issues, ending with three key actions. The Habinteg report reveals a “huge postcode lottery in the planned supply of new accessible homes…”. Therefore it is crucial to “set a national policy that will create a level playing field and more certainty for developers”. The report found that existing basic minimum standards as set out in Part M1 of the building code are insufficient. The planned development of accessible housing is set to fall short of previous official predictions. The report also has personal case studies to highlight the impact the lack of availability has on their lives. Mandatory standards within building regulations are needed because Part M1 is too basic. The shortage of housing with liveable access features, which are suitable for everyone, is now at a critical level.
Australia should watch this space while the Australian Building Codes Board considers the same issues regarding mandating accessibility in all new homes. The Regulatory Impact Statement for accessible housing is due out for comment early next year. The ABCB oversees the National Construction Code. Get an insight into the NCC and how it works from Sourceable article.
There aren’t enough homes to support ageing place, as many of us know. Researchers in South Dakota found lack of demand was overstated and that the role of terminology plays an important part in consumer perception. In their study, participants assessed the appropriateness of different situations using vignettes. Participants were also asked about the relevance of UD in everyday life, and whether UD sounded environmentally friendly, attractive, or expensive.
The report has an executive summary and recommendations that follow other US studies in recommending visitability features (similar to Silver level of Livable Housing Guidelines). This is because the original concept of UD provides for an iterative process of continuous improvement and adaptation. “Therefore, any attempt for widespread implementation will likely be cumbersome and counterproductive”.
Editor’s note:From a purist UD position I agree that regulation or a standard can be counterproductive. From a pragmatic position it needs regulation in housing because it is the only way to get cohesion of results across this fragmented industry.
Three bedrooms and urban living are what most older people want. These are two of the key findings in a new Australian report from AHURI. Age specific housing is not a preference. So researchers suggest more innovation to attract the older cohort so they can age in place after all. There was no mention the need to have homes already designed to suit so that age-specific housing doesn’t become the “no choice” option. This report is written with the property industry in mind. There was only a brief mention of homes being adaptable.
Editor’s Comment: These research projects can take two years to complete. Consequently the action by the Australian Building Codes Board on Accessible Housing was not factored into the policy recommendations. One key point in the report is one that challenges the housing industry’s claim that “if they ask for it we will build it”. Older people are not even thinking of asking for it. Hence, regulations for both supply and demand sides of the market would be best all round.
Health and wellbeing is the focus of an audit report of Australian state and territory apartment design guidelines. There is a passing mention about universal design and residential mobility at the end. These are considered indirect factors for wellbeing that might be worth researching at another time. There is a comparison chart of the similarities and differences between state and territory policies and guidelines. Many of these include universal design and accessibility, but these factors were not picked up in the comparison chart. The nationally recognised Livable Housing Design Guidelines were not referenced even though they also support health and wellbeing. This is an open access report and should be of interest to anyone in the residential housing sector. It is good to see there is a focus on quality of design.
From the conclusions: “Finally, this audit focused on specific design themes known to impact health, however other design features also contribute to the experience of apartment living (e.g., storage, car/bike parking, lighting, universal design). While these features might not directly impact on health and wellbeing, they nonetheless contribute to the ease of long-term apartment living, and many policies include standards for such features. Given the evidence that apartment and neighbourhood satisfaction can reduce residential mobility and enhance mental health (Giles-Corti et al., 2012), these indirect factors may be worthy of investigation in future studies.”
Editor’s Comment: Given we have population ageing and housing demands by people who are NOT on the NDIS, I should have thought universal design and accessibility are essential to health and wellbeing. There is nothing healthy about not being able to get out of your home or being able to visit your family. The building code requires disability access into apartment buildings and public space, but not inside the dwellings – which is where universal design comes into play.
There are many reasons people move house, or don’t move, in later life. It is often said that older people want to stay put, but this may not be the case. A recent study from Berlin, Germany looked at this issue in depth. While some of the findings might be specific to Berlin, the article raises questions that need further research. The Australiandownsizing study by Bruce Judd and his team could perhaps do with an update?
The researchers found that variables such as social class, gender, age and migrant history were not necessarily measures of movement behaviour. The top three reasons that emerged were: to have a smaller apartment, an obstacle-free apartment, and to move to a cheaper apartment.
Caroma – the bathroom people, and University of New South Wales got together to do some hands-on research on bathroom fittings with a group of older people. The resulting report covers the collaborative research methods as well as the attitudes and feelings of older people towards assistive fittings and designs. The title of the Caroma report is Ageing Joyfully.
Older people feel stigmatised by “special” designs. Some fittings, such as a small grab rail, could be included as standard in all bathrooms therefore avoiding the stigma. Then we would have safer bathrooms for all (universal design).
Here is a quote from the report that shows how stigma prevents some people from adapting their homes: “One member of a co-design group remembered the time her husband was prescribed grab rails “The shudders went through, it has come to this!” However, after having the rails for a long time she found herself using them more and more, said she wouldn’t be without them and thought they would benefit everyone. ‘If it were standard it would be normal’ and so would have no stigma of being associated only with the frail elderly.”
The report offers advice for designers, “For designers, working collaboratively with older people provides a rapid feedback on assumptions and design proposals. Older people have at least as varied aesthetic preferences as any other cohort, and they have a powerful connection between home and identity.”
Editor’s note: It is a pity the front cover picture is a stock item showing a young person in a carer uniform semi-embracing an older woman in a wheelchair. As we know, this is not indicative of the breadth of the older population. It was probably chosen by the designer contracted to layout the document.