- Article by Tili Bensley-Nettheim
Pragmatic housing design features are vital to enable older people to stay home longer, have greater independence and reduce the cost of aged care services, according to new RMIT University research.
COVID-19 has exposed serious flaws in the quality of care provided in residential aged care. About 1.3 million older Australians need help with their everyday activities, yet only two thirds have those needs met. 83 per cent of Australians over 60 prefer to live and age in their own home.
A new report by RMIT researchers has investigated how the home influences the need for and the quality of home care services.
The report surveyed over 100 caregivers, of which more than 90% believe current home design impedes their capacity to deliver, and affects the time spent on, care services provided in residential homes.
Drawing on the experiences of care providers, both paid and family, the report identified step-free entrances, wide corridors, hobless showers and ground-level toilets as the most important features needed for senior citizens to age well in their own homes.
Lead researcher Dr Sarah Sinclair, from the RMIT School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, said the findings should encourage home buyers to think about their future needs in regard to ageing at home.
“The coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions have highlighted the importance of the home and neighbourhood in promoting physical and social wellbeing in older people,” says Sinclair.
“Current government aged care expenditure is close to $20 billion and is expected to increase to $25 billion by 2023, with nearly two thirds of that spending on residential care.
“We need to reconsider the features we want in our homes that support health and independence as we age, to minimise the need for external care.”
Sinclair says caregivers – both paid and family – unanimously agreed that current home design can hinder their ability to support elderly and vulnerable citizens.
A consistent pattern of better designed housing features included:
- step-free entrances and easy entry from parking spaces
- wider internal doors and corridors
- hobless shower recess
- reinforced bathroom and toilet walls with grabrails installed where needed
- ground-level toilet
- non-slip flooring and lever taps
“Any housing design features that make everyday tasks easier to complete and supports seniors to age well in their home reduces the need for, the level of, and the time spent on care delivery,” explains Sinclair.
“This can generate significant private and public economic value, through offsetting aged care costs.”
The report urges policymakers to reconsider the best forms of capital expenditure to support the delivery of public care services, and the housing needs of an ageing population.
“Suitable housing to age in place is undersupplied in the market and age-specific housing development is often not an attractive investment compared to other housing or commercial development,” Sinclair said.
“Clearly from this report, inappropriate housing is a key factor influencing necessary levels of care, and this has been heightened by the pandemic.
“The baby boomer generation – our largest cohort – are next to enter the aged care system.
“By implementing accessible housing designs, we can decrease the need for external care and promote sustained independence so that the next generation of seniors do not suffer the same damaging outcomes.”
Associate director and seniors living leader at Hames Sharley, Gary Mackintosh recently explored how aged care design will balance resident’s emotional and physical health post COVID-19.
Lead photo: Bedroom, St Basil’s Randwick © Murray Fredericks.