Why Longer Lives Are a Reason to Innovate, Not Celebrate

It’s time for a significant change in our thinking when it comes to things like health, care and housing. People are living longer, and older individuals are increasing in quantity around the world. This means that we need to think carefully about how we can reduce the health inequality that exists around the world and deliver a more supportive environment for senior individuals to live comfortably and independently. 

The growing senior population is leading to rising demand for home adaptations and well-designed furniture that offers multiple functions without being clinical, or unwelcoming. We need products, homes and services that support the kind of lifestyle that we would all want later in life. Homes shouldn’t be about managing the kind of lifestyles that we fear as we get older. 

To drive a new kind of future, we require local and central governments, planners, designs, and developers to think differently. 

Making Homes and Communities Age-Friendly

The truth is that implementing new design principles for the senior community doesn’t have to mean making particularly onerous or radical changes. However, even the smallest changes could significantly reduce the strain on our medical care systems. What’s more, these changes would ensure that everyone can live their senior years in an independent and happy way. 

Making communities age-friendly and inclusive is a big part of moving towards the design principles of tomorrow. This means that everyone should be able to access more accessible housing and age-friendly housing. Tomorrow’s developments should draw from population data and projections to deliver the kind of spaces that people need, such as green environments and plenty of transport locations that are fully accessible. 

The framework provided by the World Health Organisation for age-friendly communities offers a strong basis for this kind of environment. According to WHO, space standards should be set to guide the design of homes. The government should be setting mandatory requirements for 90% of all new homes to be built according to accessibility standards. The other 10% need to be built as wheelchair user dwellings which are specifically intended for those who don’t have full control over their movability. 

Making a Significant Change

Additionally, building an environment for the growing aging environment also means ensuring that local plans for neighbourhoods include principles that are relevant to age-friendly environments. This might mean working with local planning authorities to ensure that new developments incorporate age-friendly environments in their plans. Local areas will need to take lessons from the growing network of age-friendly communities, where representatives around the world are collaborating to deliver change in the way that cities respond to aging in the population. 

Network members globally are currently working together to improve the experience that people have when they begin to grow older in cities. What’s more, governments from all backgrounds need to invest in skills that are relevant to an age-friendly community. A different approach to senior living needs to be embraced and supported everywhere, and this requires skills development and leadership abilities. The government will need to invest in training to support the people who are involved in co-designing age-friendly environments to provide a shared and clear understanding of how to deliver the right homes in the correct places and collate to share good practices. 

Going forward, the application of evidence in housing development will be critical too. Housing developers will need to work according to age-friendly criteria, applying evidence of what already works to make homes as accessible and adaptable as possible as people around the world age. This will also need to be a principle that’s embedded within age-friendly communities. 

Using Inclusive Design Everywhere

The universal and inclusive design of services, products, homes and environments will require new understandings and skills within the planning and design professions, as well as in key sectors like tech and product developers, and home retail companies. It’s becoming increasingly obvious throughout national governments and public services that citizens need to be more connected to the planning and design of public servers. 

Part of this process means being more ambitious with the industrial society challenge fund. The government needs to use this new opportunity to stimulate the mainstream market and drive innovation, ensuring that everyday services and products are designed according to the principles of inclusive designs in areas like home adaption, independent living and transport. This could include engaging certain retailers and designers to respond to the ever-changing needs of the aging population. It also means supporting everyone to understand the market opportunities and requirements of inclusive design principles for an aging population, while encouraging greater co-production. 

The private and public sectors will need to begin embedding the principles of co-production in the design of services, products and services. This means using people who require carers and services to work with people in the development industry to achieve shared goals. This can enhance the quality of experiences and outcomes for people who use today’s services. What’s more, it will also help to ensure that crucial resources are better spent and used. If we want to create inclusive spaces where everyone can participate as confidently and equally as possible, then we need to bring local people into the design process and use their insights in helping to create a successful environment.