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Home in on design to better age in place: report

Australians looking for the next home and who want to age in place should look at little closer at design – and so should policymakers.

That’s according to a new RMIT report, which found that both paid and unpaid caregivers believe current home design can hinder their ability to support older adults.

The researchers surveyed over 100 caregivers and found 95 per cent believe home design influences the level of care required in the home.

Lead researcher Dr Sarah Sinclair, from the RMIT School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, encouraged home buyers to think how their next property would fit their future needs to support ageing at home.

“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.”

Some of the design elements deemed most important to those delivering care included stair-free entries, wide doors and corridors, hobless shower recesses, reinforced bathroom and toilet walls, a ground level toilet, non-slip flooring and lever taps.

Those with medical and cognitive needs found that flooring, laundry space, kitchen space and tapware become more important.

“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,” Sinclair said.

“This can generate significant private and public economic value, through offsetting aged care costs.”

In 2010 it was estimated that 96 per cent of new homes in Victoria lacked basic accessibility features and that this lack of accessibility imposed significant costs on the community, the report said.

“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,” said Sinclair.

The RMIT team’s solution? In part, Australians using their buying power to drive housing innovation and policymakers considering the best forms of capital expenditure to support the housing needs of an ageing society.

Sinclair said: “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.”

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