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Building for comfort and wellbeing for older generations

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Why homes for older people should be more than ‘decent’

According to a new report by the Centre for Ageing Better and Care & Repair England, more than two million of over-55s live in homes that pose a risk to their health.

The study states that around 4.3 million homes in England do not meet basic standards of decency. But older people are impacted the most, as households headed by people who are older than 75 are disproportionately more likely to have a non-decent home.

Rightly, the findings were called a ‘national scandal’ by the charities that commissioned the report, but it also raises the need for us to look beyond meeting just ‘decent’ standards of homes.

Building for comfort and wellbeing for older generations

Figures from the ONS project that in less than 50 years, there will be an extra 8.6 million people in the UK – that’s roughly the size of London. Knowing this and as part of our continuing housing crisis, it makes sense that the homes we are building or refurbishing today not only meet the basic needs of older generations but actually contribute to higher levels of comfort and wellbeing.

Here are some of the practical ways we can improve homes for older generations:

  • Acoustic comfort: While we might associate getting older with hearing loss, that doesn’t mean acoustic comfort should be about making everything louder. Reducing background noise, for example, is critical as it enables people to focus on what needs to be heard. Architects and designers need to give consideration to how a space will be used and ensure there’s the right acoustic environment, with the correct balance of reflective and sound-absorbing surfaces based on the space’s usage.
  • Visual comfort: With conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts more common in older people, homes should be well lit to keep occupants safe from accidents and falls. But it’s not just about artificial lighting. As older people are less likely to be out and about day-to-day, homes must be designed to maximise exposure to natural daylight and all of its health benefits, as well as provide quality views of the outside world to improve emotional wellbeing and feelings of isolation.
  • Thermal comfort: Sadly, the effects of the cold on older people are well known and recognised, but less thought is often given to warmer summer temperatures. Homes should be designed with a fabric first approach to keep them cool, as well as warm, creating a consistent year-round temperature for occupants.
  • Indoor air comfort: Ventilation is a key aspect of indoor air quality, but it’s believed that over a third of homes don’t have vents that are open or working. With mould and damp linked to breathing issues and asthma, natural and mechanical ventilation must be given the importance it deserves when designing homes, especially for older people.

As well as the positive benefits on acoustic, visual, thermal and indoor air comfort, having the foresight to design homes for an ageing population makes economic sense too.

The same report by the Centre for Ageing Better and Care & Repair England also noted that poor housing for all ages costs the NHS an estimated £1.4bn a year; a figure that’s likely to only rise as we get older and become more reliant on our national health service.

By designing homes that are aligned to the future demographic makeup of the UK population, we can stand ourselves in better stead to avoid this strain on resources, but also improve the day-to-day lives and emotional wellbeing of older people.

For more information, read this article on designing for dementia and care homes here.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.

Ieuan Compton
Ieuan Compton Head of Marketing Services
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