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How can we help people age well in place?

Blog | Rachael Docking, Senior Evidence Manager, Centre for Ageing Better | 9 March 2016

What do people want from their housing as they age? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people want to stay within their home environment for as long as possible. A 2015 study by the Strategic Society Centre found that 80% of older homeowners wished to stay where they are. In our major report with Ipsos MORI – Later Life in 2015 – we found that having strong social connections help some people to overcome disadvantages such as poor health or a lack of financial security. We also found that people felt maintaining strong local social networks depended, in part, on how long they had lived in their local area. Many had been in their home for a number of years so had strong networks and were, understandably, reluctant to move out of their home, which were full of memories and often the place where they had raised their family.

However, current UK housing stock is generally not well suited for people as they age. And the implications of this are costly – the 2015 Building Research Establishment (BRE) report, ‘The cost of poor housing to the NHS’, found that the impact of poor housing on health is similar to that of smoking or alcohol. Evidence from Foundations, the national body for home improvement agencies, found that adapting your home can delay a move into residential care by four years. While this is a huge cost saving, more importantly, it is allowing people the opportunity to remain in their homes and connected to their communities.

The Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) was first introduced 25 years ago as a Government initiative to fund home adaptions. The aim of the DFG was to reduce the risk of people being admitted to hospital but also to improve wellbeing and enable people, and their carers, to live independently and in their own homes for longer. The last spending review announced an increase in DFG funding and a transfer to a pooled Better Care Fund (BCF) – these changes bring new opportunities to spend this money wisely, and on those with greatest need.

Ageing Better are keen to ensure that more people can enjoy later life staying in the communities and homes they know and love. We want to understand how spending money on home adaptations can bring benefits not just in terms of reduced costs (to health care and residential care) but also how they can improve the quality and experience of ageing for people. Does adapting your home add quality to years?

We recently held a roundtable where we invited experts from across the housing sector – including academics, developers, architects, improvement agencies, occupational therapists, public, private and charity sectors – to help us better understand what people need and want to allow them to stay in their homes.

This energising event covered a wide range of issues, but one area was frequently mentioned. There are a growing number of self-funders, with the majority of people able to fund their own home adaptations. This group of people have a bit of money to spend on changes to their home, or can release housing equity to do so, but where are they going for impartial advice and information on what to spend it on? They need access to good and reliable independent information, and also more desirable products, which are attractive and meet lifetime standards. Home adaptations are often associated with frailty and decline; we need to instead look at how these products can become an attractive and desired feature from a consumer perspective. People spend a huge amount of time and money making their house and interior a reflection on themselves and their lives, and any adaptations should fit within those homes as part of the environment. 

We often underestimate the importance of the place in which we live and the possible changes that environment might need through the different stages of later life, and how small changes can make a huge difference to allowing people to live in the comfort of their own homes. We are at the start of a changing world where people will not only want to, but have to remain in their own homes for as long as possible – residential care will increasingly not be a feasible or favoured choice for most. Where we live makes a huge difference to our quality of life. By building and sharing evidence, and supporting people in accessing and understanding what options are available, later life can be spent in an environment chosen and designed by the person, ensuring more of us are in control and ageing well in place.

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