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An Ageing Population – Challenges for the built environment

Following a trend across much of the developed world, the population of the UK is growing, and ageing. The UK population is projected to continue growing, reaching over 74 million by 2039. The population in the UK is getting older with 18% aged 65 and over and 2.4% aged 85 and over. In 2016 there were 285 people aged 65 and over for every 1,000 people aged 16 to 64 years (ONS, 2017).

The WHO’s (World Health Organisation’s) global network of age-friendly cities and communities has identified the crucial role of the physical and social environment on health and wellbeing across the life course. Against this background, it is increasingly recognised that the built environment, enriched by new opportunities from digital innovation, matters crucially in defining favourable conditions to transform ageing into an opportunity for economic growth and personal wellbeing.

It is well recognised that our built environment needs to adapt to the changing needs of society. UK Government have recently supported an investment “into developing new technologies that will revolutionise the way we age and provide everyone with the best possible chance to grow old with dignity in their own home.” This investment is positive but how do we consistently apply new approaches to adaptation and development that will achieve the desired outcomes?

Current housing models, and related standards, design codes and associated certification schemes do not readily align with the changing needs of the population. With these insights it is important to not solely focus on developing new technologies that support healthy ageing without simultaneously taking account of the urgent need to re-imagine housing and the built environment. This challenge needs a cross-sector approach, recognising and harnessing the knowledge of the healthcare sector, whilst seeking the inspirational input from the development community. The collaborative approach undertaken by BRE in the development of their ‘Dementia Friendly Home’ is an example of this multi-disciplinary approach to home adaptation for an ageing population.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to encourage and incentivise greater collaboration between the development community and healthcare professionals. Critical to this successful collaboration will be to determine ‘what good looks like?’. What should our homes and communities look like in the future if we are to accommodate the changing needs of our society?

BRE is working with Government, public sector, healthcare professionals and technology providers to create consistent approaches to these significant societal and development challenges. Whilst taking a lead, BRE recognises that expertise in this field exists across industry sectors. Given the inevitability of us all ageing at home and within our communities, these challenges also present great opportunities to build new partnerships and develop commercial opportunities.

The BRE ‘Dementia Friendly home’

Currently home adaptation for an ageing population and dementia does not recognise or utilise research-based information – it is often driven by grant fund availability and marketing of individual products. The Home for Life project addressed this failure by putting research-based outcomes into practice.

BRE has developed ‘Chris & Sally’s house’ on its Innovation Park in Garston. This demonstration has been designed and constructed with input from a multi-disciplinary team with backgrounds in architecture, supportive environments, clinical healthcare, and refurbishment. The demonstration project also identified 14 parameters, common in most housing, that can have both a negative and positive effect on someone living at home with dementia.

Currently, home adaptation and design for an ageing population is fragmented and is driven by funding availability, individual product specification, design professionals, and market research by individuals/families. There is a lack of knowledge around the influence of multiple parameters on building performance with respect to ageing. There is also a lack of understanding and measurement on how effective measures are in creating supportive environments to support ageing well at home.

BRE is creating a consistent and measurable approach to home (and building) adaptation for an ageing population. This approach uses 14 parameters and a matrix for guiding adaptation, with a view to providing positive outcomes for individuals, families, and building owners. This has been developed for use within new-build and existing developments, as well as domestic and non-domestic buildings.

Through the develop of its approach, BRE has secured interest from a number (6 to 8) of potential pilot projects who are willing to ‘test’ this approach in the development of buildings for an ageing population. Partners from around the UK are keen to develop robust, measurable, and repeatable approaches for adaptation that are evidenced by research and best practice. This approach will give greater confidence to stakeholders that the adaptation process will deliver meaningful outcomes and support those ageing well within their own home.