Older adults: to move or not to move?

The corner view of an apartment building with red and white walls and a blue roof. To move or not to move.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 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 have to a cheaper apartment. 

The title of the article is, Why Do(n’t) People Move When They Get Older? Estimating the Willingness to Relocate in Diverse Ageing Cities.  This is an open access article in Urban Planning journal. The results indicate decisions to move are multifaceted. Older adults are not an homogeneous group with the same needs. As with other studies, older people want the same things as younger people. 

From the abstract

Two of the dominant processes shaping today’s European cities are the ageing and diversification of the population. The living environment around the place of residence plays an important role in the social integration of the older generation. 

We have chosen Berlin as a case study which shows that age impacts people’s past and planned movement. There is a peak in the decisions to move at the age of 65-75 and a drop in the inclination to move among people over 80. Our study suggests that variables other than classic socio-demographic data, such as apartment size, rent, social networks, and health, are a starting point for achieving a full picture of older people’s movement behaviour.

Articles on home modifications

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor. Articles on home modifications.In September next year, a step free entry and other minor changes for accessibility will be mandated for all new homes. For many people it will minimise the need for home modifications. Where they are needed, it will make it easier and more cost effective. In the 20 years leading up to the code change, many research articles were written to put the case. These articles remain relevant for existing homes and in jurisdictions yet to mandate access features in new homes. They are a mix of magazine and research articles and are listed below.

Ageing in Place: Are we there yet? (2019) Mary Ann Jackson

Your Home: Adaptable Housing Guide (2013) published by the Australian Government

Overcoming inertia to jump start renovations for ageing in place (2020) Louis Tenenbaum 

The potential of a home modification strategy – a universal design approach to existing housing (2014) by Phillippa Carnemolla.

The role of home maintenance and modification services in achieving health, community care and housing outcomes in later life (2008) AHURI Report by Andrew Jones et al. 

Better supporting older Australians to age in place (2021) AHURI Brief. 

Accessible housing – what’s it worth? (2020) by Dušan Katunský.

Accessible housing: costs and gains (2017) 

Ageing better at home (2018) Centre for Ageing Better 

Housing and older people: four strategies (2018) Jon Pynoos

Home design and later life (2017)

Adaptable housing for people with disability in Australia: A scoping study (2021) Australian Human Rights Commission. It looks beyond the code change for new housing to the issues in existing housing.

Universal design and existing homes (four articles in this post)

Ageing in Place: Not there yet

A suburban house in UK showing before and after the ramp. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. She found that when it comes to ageing in place we are not there yet. 

The homes visited all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. A screen door complicated matters, and meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place. 

Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability. 

Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?  

The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.

Older people and perception of home

Within the findings of an AHURI report is a section on the qualitative research on older people and the perceptions of their homes in terms of ageing in place. The report is titled, “The role of home maintenance and modification services in achieving health community care and housing outcomes in later life”, and is by Andrew Jones, Desleigh de Jonge and Rhonda Phillips for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2008. 

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor.Phillippa Carnemolla’s conference paper expands on some of these ideas for ageing well at home. She found that home modifications address both social and individual needs. The title of the paper is,  The potential of a home modification strategy – a universal design approach to existing housing


Universal Design in Architectural Education

Two student models of a housing development incorporating universal design.
Two examples of student designs

Ageing is a fact of life. It’s something we know happens but don’t want to think about. But policy-makers and designers need to think about it as many of us live longer. Yes, it is a good thing, but also a challenge. Two things need to change – designer attitudes and skills, and building codes. So what are architects doing about it? We need universal design in architectural education if we are to leave behind the age-unfriendly designs of last century.

A paper from Ireland discusses many of the housing issues faced across the world. That is, homelessness, affordability, social housing, and ageing safely at home. The crisis in homelessness led to more funding for local authorities to tackle the issues. Hence, an opportunity to try something different. 

The Cork Centre for Architectural Education (CCAE) embarked on a “Live Project” for architecture students. This type of learning allows creativity to meet the real world. It also encourages students to take a moral and social approach to design. 

The authors discuss the real life project which was to design a housing development for older adults. It covers the site and the teaching methods related to universal design. Working with the local authority gave students awareness of different housing provisions. It also changed their perceptions of families similar to their own experience. 

One of the outcomes was that students found it harder to combine both the effective overall site strategy with an equally well-considered scheme for the interior of the houses. However, this was likely due to the limited time frame they were working with. But there is much more in this paper. 

The title is, Universal Design in Architectural Education: Community Liaison on ‘Live Projects’.  The paper is from the 2018 Universal Design Conference held in Dublin.    


The infusion of Universal Design principles into existing courses in
architecture should become evident in any project work undertaken. ‘Live project’ is a term used to describe projects that engage the academic world with real-world groups/organizations.

CCAE sees such projects as valuable exercises in a student’s education, particularly, the practical experience of interaction with ‘user-experts’. In 2016 Cork County Council approached CCAE with a proposal to promote age friendly housing as part of their age-friendly initiative.

CCAE developed this into a ‘live project’ for Year 2 architecture students, continuing the integration of UD into the curriculum. This helps students to identify the negative disabling aspects of ageing and show UD principles can be seen as commonplace. For their part, the County Council were able to expand their own thinking, availing of the less constrained ideas that students brought to their schemes.

An approach to achieving the adoption of UD is to consider the Vitruvian definition of architecture as having ‘commodity, firmness and delight’. From this, the aesthetic integration of features to benefit users of limited ability can be achieved without stigmatising anyone as being old or disabled. Now in its second year the project is being run in West Cork.

The chosen site in Bantry town centre, has interesting challenges for the students to incorporate UD principles. This paper will present imaginative but viable projects as examples of student’ responses to the challenges of designing housing solutions and will report on their ability to integrate age-friendly features at different scales.

Discrimination in private rental housing

Front cover of report discrimination in private rental housing.Discrimination in private rental housing is rarely mentioned in discussions about housing policy. So it’s good to see AHURI taking up the subject to see what the story is.  The researchers looked at age, gender, race and indegeneity. Disability gets a mention in terms of intersectionality.

The researchers took a holistic view of the private rental market. They found that discrimination occurs throughout the whole system. From buying property and investment, looking for a place to rent and finally, eviction. 

Those who suffer discrimination don’t just find renting a place difficult, it adds to the many other stressors they experience. The growing number of informal tenancies such as share housing, increases the risk of discrimination. 

The researchers recommend that policy responses should address structural discrimination such as health, energy, transport, ageing and immigration. 

Addressing the power difference between renters and landlords and agents would make it easier to address discrimination. Currently, discrimination is difficult to prove, and there are no minimum standards for agents.

The critical policy areas relate to evictions, housing supply, social security, negative gearing, property standards and access to data sets. 

The title of the report is, Understanding discrimination effects in private rental housing. This is a comprehensive report covering the whole spectrum of the private rental sector. There is much to digest. 

The report has two parts, the Executive Summary, and the full report.  

The Good Home Dialogue

A row of brick houses in UK. From Good Home Inquiry.When homeowners get used to their home being substandard, and even unsafe, they are reluctant to do anything about it. There are several reasons for this as discussed in the The Good Home Dialogue from the UK. Homeowners take pride in their homes regardless of their condition. They solve the issues with work-arounds which they just get used to. In Australia, these findings provide insights into why older people are resistant to home modifications.

The Good Home Dialogue executive summary is interesting reading. It tells the story of homeowners and renters and their relationship to their home. The research project asked people with low incomes living in poor quality homes what they thought would help.

Although half the participants expressed problems, they remained satisfied with their home. This is because they thought work-arounds were normal. Others preferred not to think about it or didn’t know where to start to make things better.

Participants understood the connection between health and quality of their home. However, this was not enough to motivate them to seek improvements. In the UK around half of ‘non-decent’ homes are lived in by someone over 55 years. 

The barriers

The barriers to making improvements were largely due to people getting used to the conditions. As homeowners they valued their home for what it means to them. And that meant leaving things as they are unless there was a critical need. Finding and working with reputable tradespeople was a common theme. This did not encourage those who felt they lacked the capability to commission work. Overall, there was a sense of feeling overwhelmed by the issues, especially renters.

The housing supply system in the UK is not the same as in Australia. However, there are useful insights as to why people are reticent to make changes to their homes. This is especially the case for older people and people with disability who would likely benefit most. 

The document is easy to read and well set out with recommendations for the Good Home Inquiry at the the end. The first of which is finding ways to motivate people to take action. The last point is improving access to a pool of trusted tradespeople. Funding, regulation and information are the basis of other recommendations. 

The Centre for Ageing Better webpage has more detail about the Good Home Inquiry and the full report of the research. The key issue in the UK is that more than 4 million older people live in homes that threaten their health.

There are more housing reports on the Centre for Ageing Better website, including accessibility and adaptations.


Universal design in the kitchen

Picture shows a kitchen in timber tones. There is an island bench with an induction cooktop. Drawers replace cupboards. Universal design in the kitchen.
Universal design in the kitchen

The Center for Real Life Design at Virginia Tech renovated two kitchens to incorporate many universal design features. One was designed for a multi-generational family, including an older grandparent and a child with autism spectrum disorder. The other was planned as a multifamily kitchen. These examples show how to do universal design in the kitchen.

The Center’s webpage has an article that explains the design features, and several pictures illustrate the outcomes. The first part of the article is about the Centre, and the second part has detailed explanations.

Julia Beamish also published an academic article on this project that can be accessed from Ingenta Connect: Real Life Design: A Case Study in Universal Design. You can also access on ResearchGate and ask for a copy.

A related article by Sandra Hartje, also available through Ingenta Connect, is Universal Design Improves the Quality of Life for Individuals, Families and Communities. It’s about why it is important for families and communities to design universally rather than how to design.  

Kitchen lighting

A modern kitchen with a bowl of fruit in the foreground and a stove and microwave in the backgroundLighting is of particular importance to anyone with low vision. And people who wear glasses also need good light to see what they are doing. And more light isn’t always better if it produces glare.

Doug Walter writes in ProRemodeller magazine about research in kitchen lighting. He says, “Most kitchens are woefully underlit. Lighting is often an afterthought, yet even when it’s carefully planned, designers and lighting experts often don’t agree on which lamps work best in particular fixtures and where those fixtures should be located.”

In the absence of any standards, the kitchen designer or the homeowner to have to work it out for themselves. The article offers practical and technical advice about lighting the kitchen. 

The title of the article is Recessed Kitchen Lighting Reconsidered. Doug Walter also wrote The Right Way to Light a Kitchen


Lack of accessible housing causing most problems

A new home showing the entry with six steps to the front door. It is not accessible.
Newly built home is not accessible

What are the social inclusion obstacles in the built environment, who do they affect, and how? There’s a good amount of research on accessibility in the built environment. There’s also a lot of research on accessible housing design. However, the two are rarely discussed in tandem. While identifying the obstacles in the built environment for people with disability, researchers found that it was a lack of accessible housing causing the most problems.

Researchers at Deakin University were looking for social inclusion obstacles in the built environment. They wanted to know what aspects were key for people with disability. While many were found, most issues could be traced back to a lack of accessible and affordable housing. In short, they found that housing was at the centre of multiple issues creating obstacles for living meaningful lives. 

Several workshops were conducted in the regional city of Geelong. Stakeholders included people with disability.  Access to appropriate and affordable housing was a key factor across all the workshops. It affected employment, connecting with family and friends, transport, services and facilities.

While it is important for people with disability to have an accessible home, all homes must be accessible so they can visit neighbours and feel included in their community. This point is often lost on policy-makers. 

Another factor not often mentioned is the ability to engage with the community to influence attitudes. That is, unless people with disability could get out and about, get a job and get to the shops, they will remain invisible, and nothing changes. Consequently one of the recommendations was to raise awareness of attitudes towards access and inclusion across different professions. 

There is a lot to unpack in this article including a discussion on co-design and whether it has the desired result. Universal design is discussed in the context of built environment courses. Also available from SpringerLink with institutional access.

The title of the article is, “Housing at the fulcrum: a systems approach to uncovering built environment obstacles to city scale accessibility and inclusion”. 

The research was conducted before the Australian Building Codes Board completed their cost benefit analysis on accessible housing

Extracts from abstract

This paper describes a study determining actions to overcome unintended obstacles in the built environment to city-scale accessibility and inclusivity. Prior studies have largely failed to connect social inclusion obstacles in the built environment with factors leading to social exclusion in other domains.

An approach based on systems thinking allowed a wide range of stakeholders, including many with lived-experience of disability, to exchange ideas. One hundred and nineteen actions were identified to overcome these obstacles, with 37 of these prioritised according to impact and feasibility. Nineteen of these 37 are imbedded in the built environment.

Access to appropriate and affordable housing was identified as a key factor across all domains. Access for people with disability to appropriately designed and affordable housing was at the fulcrum of many other issues which created obstacles to meaningful living and fulfilled lives. The process showed how housing is impacted by, and has impacts on, a wide sphere of socio-political and physical contexts.

Housing and Indigenous disability: Lived experience

A small house with a large veranda sits on orange soil in a remote location. Indigenous people need accessible housing.All new housing should be designed for accessibility to the silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is one of the recommended policy actions from AHURI research on housing and Indigenous disability. A systematic inspection process for new builds to ensure compliance with the guidelines is also needed. They also recommend a new classification in the building code for “housing for Indigenous people”.

Researchers found housing conditions were poor, inaccessible and that few people were aware of modifications for making life easier. 

Indigenous Australians have a high rate of disability and chronic illness but there is little housing available to support them. Disability is under-reported in this population, particularly in remote areas. This is because the concept of disability varies between urban and rural locations. In urban areas where people know about the NDIS their understanding of disability is similar to the non-indigenous population. Remote communities relate to disability as wheelchairs.

The title of the executive summary is, Housing and Indigenous disability: lived experiences of housing and community infrastructure.  The AHURI website has the full report, a positioning paper and a policy bulletin.

Adapting existing homes to be more accessible

Front cover of the report with blue and green background.From 2022, all new homes will be built to Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. That was the decision by the state and building ministers last week. But what about existing homes? How will we deal with that? The Human Rights Commission published a study by Monash University on adapting existing homes to be more accessible.

The study concluded that there were two ways to increase the stock of housing that suits people with disability. One is to mandate accessible features in all new housing. That part is almost a done deal. The second way is “through some form of modification or adaptation, which may involve a substantial renovation”.

The focus of the report is on the second point – adaptation of existing stock. Renovations for home offices and multigenerational living are current examples of adaptation. The researchers wanted to see if there ways to design for flexibility and adaptation. The overall aim is to see if there is a way of improving current stock for the benefit of everyone. 

Monash University carried out the scoping study titled, Adaptable housing for people with disability in Australia: A scoping study. It has three parts. The first two cover current approaches to home modifications. The third part looks at the overall housing landscape for people with disability. The authors note that designers and architects are rarely involved in discussions on how best to adapt a home. Rather, it usually requires an occupational therapist to make recommendations. Quality of life and aesthetics are rarely factored into these assessments because of funding constraints.