Smart ageing: Why we need to 'future proof' our homes

You are never too young to upgrade your house, making it safe and functional for decades to come, says Margaret Jennings

WHEN Dublin-based Gerald Craddock modified his home — including putting a ramp at the front door — in preparation for his older years, his neighbours were taken aback. Not surprisingly so; at the time he was only in his late 30s.

“That was 20 years ago and when my neighbours asked why I was doing it, I said ‘I’m preparing for my own longevity’.”

Craddock, who is 56, was well ahead of the curve: “I also made sure I had a large toilet downstairs that could be easily modified to include a shower. And where the utility room is in the house, I looked at how that could be converted to a lift going up to the second story down the line.”

“Future-proofing” our homes for our older years is what we all need to be doing if we want to stay comfortably in place, especially if we are doing any renovations. But most of us are probably sticking our heads in the sand, putting off the reality that more than likely we will slow down in our later years, not to talk of adapting our homes to suit.

A report published last October by ISAX (Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange) and the Housing Agency, called Housing for Older People: Thinking Ahead, which reviewed the housing needs of older people, found that 88% of the over-55s surveyed, would prefer to stay in their homes as they aged, with more than 50% saying that being in their community was the key reason.

Though a young man when he made his renovations, Craddock had identified that he and his wife were very happy where they were living and so he made a long-term investment in their longevity.

The reason he had such foresight was that coming from an electronic engineering background, he had been at the coalface of working with helping people with disabilities modify their homes.

“When the opportunity came to modify my own house or do some renovations, I thought I might as well plan for my old age now, rather than having to rip out walls and modify things further down the line,” he says.

Now he is chief officer at the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design — which is part of the National Disability Authority and is dedicated to enabling the design
of environments that can be accessed, understood and used, regardless of age. In this role, which he has held for the past 10 years, he is passionate about us all being more educated about adapting our homes for comfort and safety in our older years.

“It’s part of our human nature that we don’t think of ourselves getting old or think of ourselves as old, but design can have a significant impact on our environment, so it’s thinking in advance that is the key.
On our universal design website there is
lots of free guidance for planning for ease of accessibility and for adaptations that cost very little.”

According to the housing report the number of us aged over 65 in Ireland grew by 100,000 between 2010 and 2015. The percentage of the population aged over 65 is projected to double, from 12.4% to 24.9%, by 2050, illustrating how longevity — thankfully — is here to stay.

In addition, the number of people aged 80 and over in Ireland is projected to rise from 130,600 to 458,000 — an increase of 250%.

“Clearly, a key consideration is the growing size of the over-65 population; a segment in Ireland which has been increasing at a faster rate than those of our EU neighbours,” says the report. “The nature of older persons is also changing with a clear, if mostly anecdotal, distinction between the ‘new old’ and the ‘old old’ — sometimes delineated as those, say, aged up to 65 to 70, and those over that age; but there is no definitive age break.”

The ‘new old’ it points out, are now more active, wealthier and more technologically engaged, than previous generations.

The point is that the infrastructure we now have is going to be there for the next 90 years, says Craddock.

“That’s why it’s going to be very much about how we adapt our existing homes
— there won’t be new builds; 90% of our buildings are going to be there in 90 years time.

“With new builds, the Housing Associations are beginning to use a Universal Design perspective so that the homes are easily adaptable and usable in 20, 40, 60 years’ time,” he says.

Almost two decades after he did his own renovations, the father of two points out that the house he is in, is also still going to be there half a century away into the future.

“In adopting existing houses to make them more usable and accessible it is not just only for ourselves, but for our children and great grandchildren,” he adds.

n http://universaldesign.ie


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