Re-thinking housing for the elderly as an alternative to care homes and to reduce loneliness

The Covid-19 epidemic has highlighted the social isolation of the elderly in particular and while the epidemic has certainly exacerbated the issue, it was an issue long before Covid-19 challenges emerged. During the pandemic, however, the elderly have lost confidence in the care home sector and whilst care homes will always needed for those with nursing needs, now is perhaps an opportunity to take stock and re-think how older people live and interact in the community. There may be alternatives to care home places and warden assisted flats which would encourage the older generation to ‘downsize’ leaving larger properties available for families, whilst improving their social interaction resulting in well-known health benefits Most elderly people live in households of just one or two. They frequently live in larger properties as there is little incentive to downsize at present and this presents issues of underutilised housing and also loneliness. A single elderly person in a large home with families all around may well be lonely, without peers or those with similar interests to interact with them. In addition, the burden of maintaining large homes is challenging, but the alternatives of warden assisted flats or care homes are not always attractive, and there are few alternatives. I would like to see government taking a new look at housing and how it can better serve our elderly population. I have often seen large plots of land and new build developments in our area that take little or no account of potential single occupancy needs or the elderly population. Many are flats or large houses, not suitable for the elderly, and bungalows are rarely built. I have often remarked on seeing a smallish plot of land that then has one large house placed on it, that it could have been better developed in an alternative way to support the elderly in the community. I would like to see more development of groups of ground level small 1-bedroom properties around a central quad. The idea is that you could accommodate 5-6 single (or couple) accommodations with a central garden square; each having an open plan kitchen, diner, lounge and one bedroom, with an upstairs bedroom suite for use by visiting friends/relatives. The older person would have the independent living often wanted, together with the social interaction of others in similar circumstances, and being in the local community allows interaction with other age groups. Thus, the small plot that would have accommodated one 5-bedroom house, now accommodates 5-6 couples, or 5-6 singles. It could even be expanded to include a multi-occupancy house in the small group, in the same way as those in their 20s often share houses with others. It is curious as to why older people do not tend to live in multi-occupancy houses. For the older person without significant care needs, this seems like a good solution to housing challenges and would also provide company. Perhaps we need to encourage people to think more about this sort of option and to include houses designed with this in mind in developments. Each room would need an en-suite bathroom and the kitchen would need sufficient space to allow everyone to cook. In parallel, I would like to see the government re-consider the development of dementia villages. Working successfully in other countries, there have been rumours of such villages in the UK, but I have not heard of any in practice. The communities are closed, so cause little concern to neighbouring villages but can provide such huge benefits. We should be pushing ahead with alternatives to care homes which have lost a lot of trust during the pandemic, but also should be looked at with new eyes for alternative ways to live which maximises housing availability but also enhances the lives of the elderly.




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