Healthy Homes: accommodating an ageing population

Despite the global perils of famine, accident, violence and infectious disease, most of us will die from a chronic or degenerative disease linked with old age.

Currently in the UK, a man in good health can expect to live to 75 and women 77, with expectations that by 2039 more than one in 12 of the population will be aged 80 and over. However, increased longevity is often associated with heightened susceptibility to diseases and injury. Falls, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and chronic pulmonary disease, are common in older adults. For example, it has been predicted that by 2035, the number of people with dementia will have doubled in the UK.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers supports Age UK’s call for “housing that reflects the changing needs and aspirations of all olderpeople”. To achieve this technology and innovation in smart homes will be the key to creating an agefriendly environment. The appropriate selection of assistive technology within the home can make a significant difference to a person’s activity levels and encourage them to remain in their home for longer.

The Institution recommends:

  • Establishing financial incentives to build cognitive houses. Government must change its existing policy on house building and incentivise construction companies to build for older living. A house that enables people;to age well will reduce the cost of residential and hospital care in the long-term, saving taxpayers money.
  • Creating a new standard for housing design and construction fit for the 21st century. Government should commit to modernising the UK building design and construction regulations, and create a ‘kitemark’ for agile/cognitive housing and its associated technology. This will help stimulate industry to grow the market for age-friendly homes.
  • Initiating new markets for technology to tackle our existing inadequate housing stock.< There is an opportunity for society to create demand for new markets in retro-fit technology, enabling people to live in their own homes for longer. Product suppliers and manufacturers must begin to prepare themselves for this customer-driven demand, or face losing out to more responsive age-friendly businesses.
  • Investing in nationwide ‘healthy living for life’ technology programmes. Our culture encourages downsizing and reduced mobility as we age. This lack of activity is costing the NHS £1–3bn a year in curing preventable illness, not to mention the cost to individuals in residential ;care or social services. The Department of Health must re-assess the ‘personalised health and care 2020’ framework and collaborate with the Academic Health Science Networks to invest in national programmes that focus on technology for prevention of ill health in old age, rather than burdening the NHS when it’s too late.


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