The Institution of Mechanical Engineers have produced a thought provoking report (read it here) which looks at the changes necessary in house building to meet the needs of an ageing population.
People today are living longer thanks, partly, to advances in medicine, and it is expected that by 2039 over 8% of the population will be aged 80+. However, longevity often brings problems of living with chronic disease, frailty, dementia etc. with many people looking to downsize their housing, as they become less active. However, older people often need more, not less space, as their reliance upon appliances and equipment for everyday mobility increases. Thus, smaller properties may actually impede physical activity and contribute to slips, falls etc.
Evidence suggests that staying in one’s own home as we age encourages good physical and mental health. The Government estimates poor housing costs the NHS £2.5bn per year across all ages. Allowing vulnerable people to remain in homes with significant hazards is costing the NHS nearly £414 million per year in initial treatment costs alone.
Therefore, there is a need to ensure that there is a stock of suitable housing for older people which supports good health and wellbeing. Currently this is not the case in the UK – Savills Estate Agents estimate 78,000 adapted homes will need to be built each year over the next decade to meet this need with another 71,000 care home spaces needed.
The UK must start to recognise how being older affects the whole of society, and ensure that the current housing infrastructure is made fit for purpose – which should include the use of smart technology within homes. Today’s over 65s are relatively well informed about technology and often want to be engaged in decisions and processes regarding their health and care.
Technology exists today which is adaptable, easy to use and cost effective; for example, a chair capable of monitoring the lifting force with respect to the sit-to-standing pose of a person which then provides adequate force to encourage the user to use their own knee muscles to help them stand up – thus encouraging physical activity.
To support greater health and wellbeing into old age, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers makes a number of recommendations:
- Establish financial incentives to build cognitive houses, recognising that the initial cost of housing which enables people to age well, will be offset in the long-term by a reduction in the cost of residential and hospital care.
- Create a kitemark for agile/cognitive housing and its associated technology.
- Initiate new markets for retro-fit technology, enabling people to live in their own homes for longer.
- Invest in nationwide ‘healthy living for life’ technology programmes. The Department of Health must re-assess the ‘personalised health and care 2020’ framework, and collaborate with the Academic Health Science Networks to invest in national technology programmes for prevention of ill health in old age.
To read the full article please click here.