We have a duty to create spaces that meet the wants and needs of our ageing population

8th December 2020 By Bob Smaylen

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With life expectancy increasing in the UK and the rise of an ageing population, a sense of urgency has drawn more focus on the elderly care sector. This is why care homes and later living developments alike will need to be reimagined to cope with the increased demands.

Around 70% of care homes in the UK are more than 20 years old[1] and a large proportion of those are not purpose-built for care, and therefore may no longer be compatible with modern requirements. For example, almost 30% of elderly care beds do not have an en-suite bathroom.

There are 465,000[2] elderly care home beds in the UK and that number has remained broadly static over the last 15 years whilst the demand has increased. The fastest increase in population growth will be seen in the 85 years and over age group predicted to be over 26% by 2030[3]. This is understandably the age group which will have the greatest need for care home beds. There is therefore a need to provide more beds going forwards to cope with both this increase in demand and the reduction in supply due to the proportion of existing stock not fit to meet modern care requirements.

In the knowledge that one day we will all meet old age, it’s important that just as we mature, so does the way we think about the spaces required to cater for our changing needs. With care homes increasingly needed closer to hospitals in order to provide an opportunity for intermediate care beds, and later living in the UK looking to the likes of America and Australasia for alternative retirement options fit for the modern-day senior citizen – it’s clear that the way we develop spaces for the elderly needs a rethink. In this article we explore the alternative options of tomorrow, looking both further afield for inspiration and closer to home with our own forward-thinking proposals, that are fit for our changing times.

 

Care Homes

Delays in discharging patients from hospital is a longstanding and growing issue facing the health and social care system. Evidence shows that longer hospital stays for older patients can lead to worse health outcomes[4] (e.g. loss of mobility and independence, risk of infection) and an increase in their care needs upon discharge.

Within every hospital there is an identifiable cohort of patients currently occupying an acute in-patient bed, who are ‘medically optimised’ but have not yet been fully assessed in terms of their needs and support requirements.

An intermediate, or transitional, care unit (TCU) would provide temporary accommodation for medically fit patients whose discharge is delayed. It is designed and staffed to accommodate patients with differing, non-acute needs and may be a viable solution delivering wide-ranging benefits. The TCU could be designed into a new care home located adjacent or near to a hospital so that both patients and staff can access it quickly and safely. The care home could be operated by the hospital or alternatively by a private care provider with the beds in the TCU taken by the hospital on a block contract.

 

Later Living

The UK’s rapidly ageing population, with one in four Britons predicted to be 65 or over by 2037[5], is creating a clear need for more alternative approaches that meet the changing expectations.

Changing tastes among the elderly will have to be catered for as well, with the baby boomer generation wanting to pursue an active and fulfilled lifestyle in old age. There is now a demand from this age group for an urban lifestyle, with new buildings combining good design principles with activities provided, and enlivening initiatives, to creating aspirational places to live in environments where residents feel happy and supported.

The struggling climate of retail and the resulting high levels of vacancy on the high street offers a great opportunity to create Later Living communities located in urban centres, near amenities and services that are vital for attracting an ageing population increasingly wanting to stay active and connected while continuing to live their lives to the fullest.

The success that Later Living communities have in countries like Australia and the US offers clear examples we can follow here in the UK, and a lot of the larger operator developers in this sector are taking inspiration from across the globe.

 

Opportunity

There is an increasing need to create modern, flexible, fit for purpose health and care spaces which enable care providers to meet the needs of the UK’s growing and ageing population, meaning care homes and later living are set to become more vital than ever.

 

[1] 6 reasons why the UK needs to build more elderly care homes (knightfrank.co.uk)

[2] UK care home sector set for shake-up (jll.co.uk)

[3] Living longer – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[4] Guide to reducing long hospital stays (improvement.nhs.uk)

[5] Future of an Ageing Population statistics by area