UK must tackle ‘urgent need’ for dementia-ready housing, report warns

A new report finds that the Government “must take action” to ensure people affected by dementia can live in accommodation that allows them to remain independent for as long as possible.

17/02/21

UK must tackle ‘urgent need’ for dementia-ready housing, report warns

There is an “urgent need” to ensure that housing is dementia-ready for patients, a new joint inquiry from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People and the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (LIN) has concluded.

Over 850,000 people in the UK currently live with dementia, with a majority of those not currently living in purpose-designed housing.

With those numbers set to double by 2040, the report says action must be taken to ensure that people affected by the disease can access support to “adapt their environment to live as well as possible or identify accommodation and services that better meet their specific needs.”

While the report found some examples of housing organisations that have developed dementia-friendly strategies, progress across the whole sector has been slow.

The inquiry highlights a number of methods for improving house designs amid growing evidence of the role of housing in improving health and wellbeing, reducing the need for adult social care and demand on NHS services.

The report recommends reframing the ten original Housing our Ageing Population, Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) design principles first raised by the Housing LIN in 2008, so that they now cater for those living with dementia.

Recommendations including the use of wider internal spaces and doorways, the integration of natural light sources, avoiding ‘institutional’ floor plans, as well as easy access to outside spaces such as balconies should all be incorporated into more dementia-ready designs for new builds in the future, says the report.

The inquiry also stressed the importance of incorporating modifiable technology into the designs of new housing to improve the wellbeing of people affected by dementia, as it could help reduce emotional and physical demands for partners/carers whilst increasing comfort and independence for those living with the disease.

As well as applying these recommendations to new housing developments, there was also the issue that many of those living with dementia were currently in accommodation that was in need of adaptations to sufficiently support them.

The report also raised concerns that those with dementia currently live in houses that require adaptations to provide a supportive living environments for residents.

Recent work from the University of Stirling revealed that those living with dementia tended to live in houses that were, on average, built in 1955.

As such, the report suggests that many now require significant investment to bring them up to date and adapt them to support people living with a variety of needs, including dementia.

“The majority of people living with dementia today do not live in specialist or newly built accommodation,” says the report.

“Well thought out design can be both aesthetically pleasing and functional for people living with or without dementia, helping to make housing into a ‘home’ and helping to reduce stigma.”

Whilst both current and new housing should be specifically targeted for improvement, the report also emphasises that there are now a growing number of people who are ageing without children or have other family members available to be informal carers and therefore may be living alone.

The LGBT Foundation presented evidence in the report that showed that LGBT people with dementia are less likely to have children to support them and could retain anxieties about accessing services and support due to fears around discrimination.

In addition, the Abbeyfield Society told the inquiry that any assumption that people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups look after their older relatives at home was an oversimplification and should not be relied upon.

The report concluded that local authorities should incorporate dementia needs within new major local developments, ensure that provisions are in place for those who are living alone with dementia and to provide guidance to those with dementia and their families around both future housing options and ways to adapt their current accommodation.

Lord Best, co-chair of the APPG behind the report, urged politicians to take on the inquiry’s recommendations to ensure that all those living with dementia can continue to have fulfilling lives.

“There are no vaccines for dementia. There is currently no cure, and in most cases the condition worsens over time. But getting the housing right can make a huge difference for those living with dementia and their carers,” said Lord Best.

“Our Inquiry shows how ‘right-sizing’ or adapting the home can avoid or postpone a move into residential care, saving places there for others who really need them.

“Our recommendations challenge politicians and practitioners but also ourselves to get ready for a future when, despite increasing numbers, everyone with dementia can have a fulfilling life.”

Jeremy Porteus, Secretariat to the Inquiry and co-author of the report added: “It‘s over a decade since the publication of the first HAPPI report. At that time it highlighted the need for ‘care ready’ design for housing our ageing population.”

“However, this Inquiry has gone much further and completely reframed the original 10 principles to incorporate for dementia-readiness. Good design is good dementia design. So let’s not wait another ten years, let’s adopt HAPPI now.”

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