100-Year Life: People, Planning and Housing

Four women using wheelie walkers crossing the roadThe longevity revolution is here, but we haven’t prepared for it. The way cities are planned and homes are designed hasn’t really changed since mid 1900s. This lack of foresight is having a significant effect on people over 65 years who are not getting any younger. This is a common problem for most developed nations. The Design Council in UK tackled this topic in “The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design“. Their article contains some small scale but effective case studies, showing various ways to address the issues with inclusive thinking. It includes home modifications, ways to finance home and community upgrades, transportation, and the application of the WHO Guidelines for Age Friendly Communities. Educating designers and planners is of course paramount as well as involving citizens in the design and development processes. The article ends with a summary of recommendations. Their conclusions resonate with the principles of universal design:

“If we are going to be successful in creating homes and places which meets both fast rising demand, and the diverse and individual needs of older people, our thinking needs to be much broader. We need to consider how we help people afford better housing and plan their finances; how we develop long-term special plans and a workforce with the right skills; and how we use existing policy levers, such as expansion of personal budgets, to best effect. We need a whole-population, whole-place approach to planning for our future health, care, housing and support system at both the national and local levels.”   

The Design Council has a free online CPD course on inclusive environments designed to suit built environment professionals. It takes about an hour.

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Housing, older people and resilience

An old weatherboard farm building sits in front of a tall dark brooding mountain.People want to stay put as they age. That means housing design is critical in supporting this desire, as well as ageing-in-place policies. A new study from New Zealand looked at issues of appropriate housing for older people, and how people and communities can develop resilience to adverse natural events. The findings relate to ageing societies across the globe and within the context of changing environmental conditions. The decision tools that researchers devised from this participatory research are useful for older people and for architects and other designers. 

The title of the article by Bev James and Kay Saville-Smith is “Designing housing decision-support tools for resilient older people“. There are several useful references at the end of this excellent study. 

ABSTRACT: Our ageing populations make it critical that older people continue to live and participate in their communities. ‘Ageing in place’, rather than in residential care, is desired by older people themselves and promoted as policy in many countries. Its success, both as policy and practice, depends on housing. House performance, resilience, functionality and adaptability are all essential to maintaining independence. Three New Zealand research programmes have worked with older people to investigate issues around housing, ‘ageing in place’ and how older people and communities can become resilient to adverse natural events. Using participatory research techniques, those programmes have generated evidence-based decision-support tools to help older people maintain independence. These tools have been co-designed and widely tested with older people and others. Designed to help older people identify priorities and information requirements, assess diverse factors determining thermal performance and dwelling resilience as well as repairs and maintenance needs, the tools help improve decisions around: repairs and maintenance assessment and solutions; dwelling and location choices and housing options. Various organizations have adopted the tools. This work demonstrates how research outputs can be used to facilitate older people’s housing choices while also giving architects and designers guides for meeting older people’s housing needs.

Image by David Mark.

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Staying put and walking more

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.A new Australian study found that older people who live in separate houses walk more than those in retirement villages. The Curtin University study accounted for several factors before coming to this conclusion. It adds to the literature that for most people, staying put in your own home is the best way to age. Of course, we need homes and neighbourhoods designed to support this. While the study has some limitations, it is another angle on staying put versus age segregated living arrangements.

The title of the article in Sage Publications is The Potential Importance of Housing Type for Older People’s Physical Activity Levels. You will need institutional access for a free read. 

Abstract: Limited research has investigated the effect of housing type on older people’s physical activity, and the small amount of work to date has relied on self-reported activity levels. The aim of this study was to assess whether housing type is associated with objectively measured physical activity among community-dwelling older people. In total, 430 Australians aged 60 years and older completed a survey and wore an accelerometer for a week. Controlling for a range of confounding variables (age, gender, physical health, neighborhood walkability, and the density of open spaces in the local area), participants living in separate houses were found to engage in higher levels of activity compared with those living in retirement villages. In addition, those living in separate houses and apartments were significantly more likely to meet the physical activity guideline of 150+ min/week compared with those living in retirement villages.

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Good Design is for a Lifetime

A luxury free-standing two storey home with a large green space in front. There is a for sale sign on display.An article on an American home builder’s website has some good information and dispels many myths. The one about “ugly and costly” is dealt with well. While they are American designs, the principles apply elsewhere. The title of the article is, How Great Aging in Place Design Prepares you for a Llifetime. There are lots of examples on the website of kitchens and bathrooms. There is also a section titled Universal Design.

Editor’s comment: Few older people will use a wheelchair at home, but they might like to sit to do some tasks. So the idea of lower benches could be a mistake unless you know all home occupants are either of short stature or wheelchair users. All family members have to be catered for in a workplace such as the kitchen. Lower bench sections or adjustable height benches help here. A pull-out workboard in the drawer section of the cabinetry is also another way to provide a low workspace for children and others who might need it. Also, in Australia and elsewhere, few homes have the kind of space shown in the pictures to allocate to a kitchen, so designs need to be considerate of all likely kitchen users. Creativity is required. Lowering benches and not having under bench cupboards is the easy solution.

Image by Paul Brennan 

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Age-Friendly Housing Resources: A List

Front cover showing yellow boxes approximating rooms in homes.RIBA’s Age Friendly Housing publication, has an updated and long Reading List that brings together a selection of  articles not previously referenced in Age-Friendly Housing: Future design for older people. The updated reading list reflects a selection of relevant reports published since the launch of the RIBA book in July 2018. Also there are also two websites with further lists of design-related resources relating to age friendly and accessible housing: Design Hub – Building homes and communities, and a research collection on zotero, the RIBA research library.  

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Build it, but will they come?

A blue sky and green grass fill this frame overlaid with a chalked outline of a single storey house with a chimney Will the upsurge in residential aged care places take account of the needs and preferences of potential residents? Also, will aged care developers factor in the trend towards staying put? Safdar Ali writes in Aged Care Insite that residential aged care developments “are often opportunistic, targeting high median house prices and land availability, not necessarily targeting need within a catchment. I observe that some catchment areas within a planning region are in a statistical oversupply whereas the planning region as a whole is in statistical undersupply.” With more federal funding coming into this area, more of the same may not be the answer.  Yes, baby boomers will want more choice, especially those with money to pay for thoughtfully designed places that consider their lifestyle preferences, but what about the rest? 

Editor’s note: If homes were universally designed and suited to ageing in place, residential care would not be needed until the very last year or so of life. I wonder if this has been factored into the scheme of things.  

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