As people get older, many think of downsizing. With the ageing population, are builders really taking on board the needs of the ageing market? Is the construction industry fully aware of the need for accessible housing and does it have the knowledge to build properties that are accessible?
Regulations now require that all new-build properties have level access to the front door and a downstairs accessible toilet. A friend recently purchased a new build house, which does comply with the regulations but once you get past the downstairs toilet there are a set of steps to negotiate, which really negates the planning of the toilet and front access!
Access for all should be a key consideration for new-build houses. Properties that are adapted for wheelchairs can fetch a premium as they are few and far between. We recently experienced two major leaks in our house and it was suggested that we move out and rent for a couple of months to allow the builders to repair the property. I am a wheelchair user and the nearest adapted rental property that we could find was 25 miles away which was an impossible option with family commitments.
The issue is highlighted by the recent problems with ‘bed blocking’ in hospitals; partly attributed to some elderly patients being unable to return to their homes, which have become unsuitable for their needs. This can result in elderly patients being placed in nursing homes, miles away from the support of family and friends.
Many elderly people lose their mobility and need to rely on wheelchairs or walkers to move around. To move house can be an extremely stressful event in the life of an older person; therefore if new build properties are designed for all, to include the needs of the less mobile, this will enable them to stay independent for longer, which will in turn lessen the pressures on the looming housing crisis.
There are several basic factors that should be considered when building a new property to allow someone to stay independent in their property for longer.
Ramped, level access and level thresholds for all doors and widened doorways, to accommodate wheelchairs, should be incorporated where possible. The installation of a wet room ensures that a bathroom is easy to adapt with the addition of a shower seat and grab rails. Installing toilets to a reasonable height, not too low, can make it easier and safer to get on and off the loo as you get older. Staircases should have a deep steps and hand rails for maximum support and safety.
Stair lifts or through floor lifts can make the difference to someone remaining independent but these can be added as the need arises Grab rails, alarms, door chains and locks to keep residents safe, can all be added as they are required. Your local GP should be able to refer you to an Occupational Therapist who can assess your needs to ensure that you can remain as independent as possible in your own home.
If you do need to move or downsize as you get older, there are a number of possible housing options to consider:
Buying a property within a retirement development gives you the security and peace of mind of a house manager who oversees the running, maintenance and security of the development. Different levels of care can be organised, depending on the property that has been purchased. Retirement developments offer the option of an active social life but if you prefer your own company, you have the privacy of your own home.
There are many different types of sheltered housing schemes available. Each scheme usually has between 20 and 40 self contained flats or bungalows which are available to buy or rent. Many schemes have community areas and run social events for the residents. Some schemes will have a warden and all schemes should operate a 24 hour emergency help through an alarm system. Extra-care schemes are available which provide meals and personal care to allow you to stay in your own home for longer.
Cohousing is a community which is founded and run by residents. It is a way of combating the loneliness and isolation that many people experience today and can be created using empty homes or by building new. Each resident has a self-contained and private home within a household but residents come together to share meals, activities and to manage their community. Households can usually sign up on a social housing, leasehold or freehold basis. Accessible housing within a cohousing community would however depend upon the individual development.
Further information and advice on housing needs for the elderly can be found at the following websites:
Housing Care http://www.housingcare.org/housing-advice.aspx
First Stop www.firststopcareadvice.org.uk.
UK Cohousing Network http://www.cohousing.org.uk/
Author: Katherine Pyne, designed2enable.co.uk