By Emma Kent
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?”1
Immortalised in the words of the Beatles classic in 1967, the lyrics of “When I’m sixty-four” talk about the question of what happens as we grow older. “When I get older, losing my hair […] will you still be sending me a valentine?” Although the song is light-hearted, it raises important questions about how we view ageing as a society.
We are all getting older, though some of us may like to pretend otherwise! In the last few decades, the opinion of what classes as “old” has also changed. Many people aged 64 in 2016 would be considered as youthful by 1967 standards, continuing to work, travel overseas and have an active social and family life. The number of older people in the UK is also steadily growing, with a predicted 50% increase in people aged over 60 in the next 20 years2 which outstrips the growth rate in people of working age.
Across the UK, around 1 million of our senior population live in specialist accommodation such as care homes, or in sheltered retirement communities. That means that the majority of the over 60s live in their own home with specialist provision only representing 6.7% of the market. Older people value community, security and space in a way that more transient, younger communities perhaps do not which means that downsizing to a new build two-bedroom flat is not an option for ageing people.
And the cost of ageing in unsuitable homes is enormous. NHS first year treatment costs associated with poor housing amount to £1.4billion, with nearly £850million3 of that being due to cold homes. Delayed hospital discharges cost the NHS £820million4 per year, mainly due to inadequate provision at home.
But what to do to help create a sustainable future for our ageing population and, dare I say it, us, in the future? There could and must be a multitude of different approaches.
I like the idea of older people’s co-housing and love the sound of the Older Women’s Co-Housing community currently under construction in North London. Each resident has a self-contained, private flat but they will share a common room, guest suite and garden, building an actively managed, sustainable community together.
I also think that there is a huge opportunity to upgrade existing housing stock in the UK. As part of the UK-GBC’s “Future Leaders” programme, I worked with three other property professionals developing a business model for forming a collaborative connection between the built environment sector, healthcare profession and ageing people (you can see our full business idea here).
Data science is opening up huge new opportunities to predict health risks that we might face in later life, based on DNA, current health and other factors. We thought there was a business opportunity in enabling a prescription for someone’s home, based on their personal health risk assessment and the condition of their current home. This could enable a series of pre-emptive upgrades such as a new boiler, or new windows, to take place.
The idea is that this could be a game-changer for healthcare, reducing NHS treatment costs and also improving quality of life for the ageing population. I think there is huge merit in the idea of getting the built environment to create a deep, pro-active connection with the healthcare profession. But the best bit, for me, is the prospect of warm, safe, sustainable homes for ageing people to enjoy a longer, healthier future. As the Beatles, themselves said:
“You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?”