Housing designed for aging population neglected, according to new report

Housing designed for people as they age to encourage health and well being has been neglected in Ireland, a new report shows.

There is a mismatch between current home features and what is actually needed.

Important features needed include widened doorways, ramps, chairlifts, ground-floor bedrooms, storage for walking aids, surveillance and intercom systems.

Research carried out by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) focuses attention on housing for older people which could go a long way to helping with the current house shortages.

Drawing on data from a report published by the Housing Agency in 2016, the RIAI has drawn attention to new demographics, the unsuitability of existing homes for supporting living with disability, and the likelihood that many older people live in houses with rooms that are not currently permanently used.

According to the report in the Irish Medical Journal, fundamental options for shaping our housing sector for ageing, and in particular the concepts of Lifetime Homes and Universal Design are urgently needed.

If used to the maximum they can keep people out of nursing homes and help to prevent long stays in hospitals.

Report findings show that the public and professionals often think that gerontology is focused solely on older people but in fact its focus is and needs to be on ageing across a lifespan.

Universal Design (UD) is a movement which has developed over six decades to promote design which accommodates all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.

The original principles have expanded to include health and well-being.

“This points to the broader societal benefit of age-attuned design – those with a range of disabilities throughout the lifespan, as well as those with small children, will also benefit,” explained co-author Desmond O’Neil from the Centre for Ageing based in Tallaght Hospital.

The current Irish home for the older person is mostly conventional in design and does not cater for their eventual age-related disabilities.

“There is a significant opportunity to engage with UD in Ireland, as our Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) is the only one in the world established by legislation.

"Through its work, consideration is being given to incorporate this into the continuous professional development of Irish architects.

“Promoting a fuller dialogue between medicine, architecture and urban design has the potential to bring positive influence to bear on the impact of housing on health and wellbeing across the lifespan, and in particular into later life.”

Mr O’Neill added: “The ability of a person to remain as independent as possible can be influenced by accessibility and usability of products, services and environments. It is better to build to best cater for all ages and abilities.

“A key focus is to avoid creating ‘architectural disability’ in design. These include layout hazards and barriers that produce a built environment which is inconvenient and unsafe to use.”

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