Don’t make me move! – ageing in place
Many of us will have seen elderly neighbours leave the neighbourhood because their homes don’t allow them to live independently. Most would prefer to stay in the house – and community – they know well but find that their home no longer suits their needs. The phrase “Don’t make me move!” will become more and more common.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the race to develop high tech care devices such as robots and electronic monitors to support older people living at home independently. Technology now offers a range of smart features such as voice activated controls and automated lighting that can help people stay independent in their homes.
The building industry is increasingly recognising the benefits of designing mainstream houses that help people to ‘age in place’ – that is, live independently in their own homes as for as long as possible. By designing in some simple yet clever features, a typical family home can be easily adapted for people’s changing needs as they grow older. Many features are integrated into the building design or hidden away from view for later adaptation if required, and are barely noticeable when designed well.
Livable Housing Australia has developed a set of Livable Housing Guidelines to help design homes that are easy to live in and cost effective to adapt when people’s circumstances change. Some property developers such as UrbanGrowth NSW (formerly Landcom) also have their own guidelines for designing houses that are flexible enough to meet the needs of people as they age. Some of the basic principles covered include:
- A level entry into the home with no steps
- A ground floor room that can be converted into a bedroom in the future
- A ground floor bathroom with a step-free shower recess and reinforced walls around the shower, toilet and bath that can support the installation of grab rails
- Wide corridors and circulation space around the home
In the broader community, other ideas worth considering are:
- Encouraging connections between neighbours by designing living spaces in the front yard, such as a porch or patio area
- Providing regular rest areas along public pedestrian routes between shops and residential areas
- Encouraging local businesses to provide scooter recharge points for older adults using mobility aids
- Providing outdoor fitness opportunities for older adults (see our previous blog on Playgrounds for Adults for more information)
Like many western nations, Australia has an ageing population. And while technology can play an important role in making life easier for us as we age, good design at the outset is a more sustainable way of enabling us to age in place.