GUEST BLOG BY GARTEC: Effects of an ageing population on architectural design, and dealing with this in new builds

The UK has an ageing population – effectively, this means that for the first time ever there are more people of pensionable age than children under the age of 16 in this country.

Many factors have contributed to this, from the number of children born during the post-war ‘Baby Boom,’ to the fact that improvements in living standards and healthcare are ensuring that we all live longer. This demographic is having a major impact on many key elements of society, including construction and housing.

Our ageing population has a different set of demands when it comes to architectural design, and is setting a precedent for the ways in which the design world must adapt to the phenomenon of an older home buyer.

A Europe-wide consideration

In the UK – and across Europe – governments are encouraging the planning and construction industries to begin incorporating the needs of older people when designing buildings. Projects such as De Rokade Tower Block in the Netherlands – which was built within a community care and nursing home complex – are only available to those over a certain age (55 in that case).

Germany’s Gradmann Haus in Stuttgart was created bearing in mind the fact that people with dementia may feel the need to move around and explore - spacious, barrier-free areas offer space for walking freely in an environment with great views. These are just some of the ways in which existing planning has already begun to take into account the needs of an older population.

Age-friendly architecture - access

Much attention has focused on the ways in which cities can be adapted so that those over a certain age can remain an active part of the community but there are numerous considerations for interiors too, especially when it comes to new build homes.

While ‘future proofing’ a home becomes an essential for most people at some point, now house builders are being encouraged to take this into account from the moment plans are drawn up. Factors such as access are increasingly crucial to avoid excluding a large proportion of the population.

Dwellings with a built in platform lift, ramps, automatic doors and widened corridors, for example, ensure that a home is accessible across every floor, even to someone with movement difficulties.

Homes with stairs, or blocks of flats that offer no alternative to stairs as a way of accessing upper levels, are instantly not an option to the ageing population or those in a wheelchair.

Inbuilt care facilities

Designing homes for the future that offer advantages to older members of the population may well mean making construction more competitive in that market.

Designs that have inbuilt care facilities or which are able to offer solutions to adapt to changing physical needs will be more attractive than those that have no room for responding to illness or immobility.

Equally as important is architecture that meets the intellectual challenges of ageing and the appeal of construction that is also designed with community spaces in mind, as well as shared facilities and an environment that is both engaging and peaceful. All must be taken into account to produce architecture that truly responds to demographic needs.

Factors to bear in mind

Some of the typical factors involved in home design – aesthetic finish, views and positioning, floor space, number of rooms – need to be supplemented with some specific considerations for those in design and construction looking to ensure appeal to the ageing market.

Access – as mentioned, this is key. Addressing the issue of stairs is the most important, particularly for homes set over more than one floor. Platform lifts are a simple solution to this potential problem, wide enough for a wheelchair and reducing (if not eliminating) the potential for slips and falls.

Layout – many homes designed for older inhabitants may benefit from reversing the social and personal spaces. For example, positioning bedroom and bathroom by the front door so that a carer is able to access them.

Independence – it’s key for older people to retain independence for as long as possible and home design features that can help with this will make properties much more attractive. Forethought should be given to circumstances where a resident breaks a leg, for example – will the design of the property still make living independently possible in such a situation?

Isolation issues – privacy and security are without a doubt a key concern for many of those who buy properties but that also needs to be balanced with the necessity of avoiding isolation for an older person living alone. Many home designs have adapted to this, for example in creating a living space that opens directly onto the street or connecting doors with neighbouring properties.

With just 3.3 people of working age to each person above state pension age and people over the age of 80 currently the fastest growing age group in the UK, the need to incorporate age-friendly architecture is becoming pressing. From the layout of cities, to internal structural design the challenge now is to make architecture work for an ageing population too.

Article by Gartec.

Gartechas been at the forefront of the platform lift industry for 20 years offering a comprehensive range of lifts and mobility solutions, lift accessories and maintenance options for a wide variety of commercial and home lifts.

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