Include builders to deal with new demands, says Alister Steele
Once again, the cost of caring for our rapidly expanding ageing population hit the headlines with the Chancellor’s announcement that the state pension age is set to rise in a bid to keep track with life expectancy and save taxpayers £500 billion.
Yet, although policy debate around reducing the future cost of healthcare on the public purse has recognised the need to support older people to live in their own homes for as long as possible, until now the housing organisations providing these homes have not been at the forefront of these discussions.
Good housing organisations are at the heart of the communities they serve. Beyond providing bricks and mortar, we are called upon to be innovators and catalysts for change in society. Having recognised the established relationships that housing organisations have with local communities, only now are we being invited to join partners in health and social care at the table to explore the sector’s capacity and enthusiasm to positively contribute to discussions on active healthy ageing.
Housing providers are central to creating age-friendly neighbourhoods which, by design, enhance the health and well-being of people of all ages, young and old. Reliance on health and social care can be reduced by introducing new models of housing specifically designed to meet the changing needs of older people in their homes, their environment and in their communities.
Castle Rock Edinvar is one housing association that is leading the way by putting future-proof homes at the heart of a pioneering new model of age-friendly development in south Edinburgh. Sympathetic building design is fundamental in helping people enjoy their independence for as long as possible. We have paid as much attention to designing outside spaces and working out how the development links with the surrounding community as we have to the more obvious concerns of creating accessible, warm and affordable homes.
Young or old, how we feel about our physical surroundings can impact on our mental health and wellbeing, with access to the outdoors an essential ingredient. Sunlight is important for the absorption of vitamin D which reduces the risk of osteoporosis and respiratory infections and for the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Outdoor activity also promotes independence through mental stimulation, physical exercise and the chance to meet with other people, going some way to combating loneliness and isolation often associated with old age.
Throughout all stages of the housing development process we have considered the implications on design in providing for the particular needs of people who may develop dementia, which, according to Alzheimer’s Society statistics, will be one in three people over 65. It is estimated that one million people in the UK will be living with the condition by 2021.
To fully understand the consequences for people living with dementia, our project team took advice from the Dementia Services Development Centre at Stirling University and the interiors of the Fortune Place homes are designed to allay confusion and anxieties, making the best use of street views, natural light and recognisable features.
A supportive environment
However, the last thing housing providers want to do is to allow concerns over safety take over any more than is necessary. Our aim is to create a supportive environment where older people, not just those with dementia, feel safe, secure and, above all, happy so that they can continue to lead independent and active lives participating in their local community.
Through the wider role of providing housing management and support services, housing associations also have a major role to play in assisting with early diagnosis of dementia and other illnesses, preferable to being diagnosed at a time of crisis which can result in institutional care.
Providing access to support and advice services to a person who is already living in a home designed to meet their changing requirements will mean they are well prepared to live independently, in their own community, for longer.
Projects like Fortune Place, and other initiatives aimed at future proofing housing to meet the needs of our ageing population, have the capacity to make a significant impact, not only in reducing health and social care costs but in promoting health and wellbeing. Housing providers should therefore be at the cornerstone of the government’s strategy to deliver care cost savings and happier, healthier communities.
• Alister Steele is managing director, Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association www.castlerockedinvar.co.uk