Where Do You Live When You’re Older?

Increasing life expectancy offers many new opportunities to us all, but it brings problems too. Amongst these is how working families can also care for elderly parent/s, who often live many miles away. One possible solution which could also help others living alone might be to re-think the mix of housing required when building homes, whether in rural areas, in terraced streets or in the suburbs.
It’s an issue we almost all have to face at some point: what do you do when old age or dependency catches up, and entirely independent living begins to be a worry?
For some of us, this occurs when our elderly parent/s or other ralatives begin to need support; for others it may perhaps only arise when we ourselves find that getting around is not as easy as it was. Sadly for a smaller number the issue arises because they have dependent adult children who will always require care. But there are few people for whom it’s never at any stage a worry.
It’s even more difficult of course if the increasingly fragile person lives at a significant distance from anyone who could ‘keep an eye’ and offer support. Many of us find ourselves at some point dashing off at any available opportunity to visit elderly parent/s or other lonely or dependent relatives. The problem is, there’s no room, or it wouldn’t work, for them to live with you; but on the other hand they live too far away for easy access.
And this issue isn’t going to go away. We should all be delighted to acknowledge that people live longer now. For probably the first time in history most of us can now expect to get into our eighties in relative good health.
In other words, the ‘dependency ratio’ – the ratio of people in work to those not working – is shifting towards fewer working people and more elderly, retired folk. So here is a matter requiring social adjustment and new policies for a whole range of services and facilities.
Would it be sensible to suggest that a policy of accommodating older people within reach of their nearest and dearest is essential wherever possible? The classic response is the personal arrangement of building or altering accommodation as a ‘Granex’, somewhere in or by the family home where a single older person can live independently but alongside their adult offspring.
But perhaps now is the time also to recognise there is a new commercial construction opportunity here, a development which would facilitate family contact but at the same time help older people to maintain their personal autonomy within the wider community.
We already have groups of small housing units which, although all separate and private, have shared wardens and services. These tend however to be in short supply; as indeed do privately owned bungalows suitable for less mobile seniors.
When housing estates (either private or for rent) are built, or when streets are renovated in the inner city or wherever, perhaps there could be a requirement that a given percentage of the development is very small clusters of accommodation suitable for elderly single people?
There could, for instance, be a recommendation that every fifteenth – or other appropriate number – plot be not, say, two conjoined semis, but rather five smaller flats, each with easy ‘disabled access’ and with a common lift, garden space etc. These small unit blocks, scattered around local communities, would provide homes to be sold or rented in exactly the same way as any other accommodation. The only difference would be that they might offer special ease of access and, through some shared amentity, an opportunity for the residents if they wish to maintain or develop a community of personal contacts and to keep an eye on each other.
If there were enough of these small unit blocks scattered around our communities, a real need could be met. Many adult children who wish to have their elderly and dependent members nearby but not for whatever reason actually in the family home could do so, using the normal mechanisms of the market. And this could also offer mutual support for others who are alone but don’t choose to live in larger blocks of flats.
Not everyone who lives alone can afford, say, suburban accommodation intended for two or more people, but there is no logical reason why smaller single living units can’t be developed in areas usually associated with the semi, as well as in the city centre. Similar arrangements could also apply, to use the other extreme, in rural villages, where affordable housing is becoming a major headache for people on lower incomes.
The evidence seems to be that mixed housing is a step in the right direction for stable and comfortable communities. General incorporation of single / small units of accommodation into ‘semi-land’ and terraced streets could increase choice for single people and help families to keep in touch with elderly members in a more routine and relaxed way.
Given the acknowledged inevitability in the UK of increased single living and also of elderly dependency, there really is a need to think about housing in new ways.

Posted on October 23, 2005, in Education, Health And Welfare, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Sustainability As If People Mattered, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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