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Better housing design is required in aged care future

A new research report from Melbourne's RMIT University has found that practical housing design features are necessary for the future of aged care if the Government wants to enable more older people to stay at home for longer, provide independence and reduce the cost of aged care.

A survey of over 100 caregivers reported that 90 percent believed current home designs were impacting their ability to deliver care. [Source: iStock]
A survey of over 100 caregivers reported that 90 percent believed current home designs were impacting their ability to deliver care. [Source: iStock]

The aim of the study, Exploring the economic value embedded in housing built to universal design principles, was to see how the home influences older people's needs for quality home care services.

A survey of over 100 caregivers reported that 90 percent believed current home designs were impacting their ability to deliver care and also affected the time spent on care services in residential homes. 

Dr Sarah Sinclair, lead researcher from the RMIT School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, says the report should encourage home buyers to consider their future care needs and make sure their home is age accessible.

"The coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions have highlighted the importance of the home and neighbourhood in promoting physical and social wellbeing in older people," says Dr Sinclair.

"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."

Care providers, both paid or informal carers, identified step-free entrances, wide corridors and doors, reinforced bathroom and toilet walls for grab rails, hobless showers, non-slip flooring and level taps, and ground-level toilets as home features that would be most beneficial to older Australians in their homes.

Dr Sinclair added that caregivers unanimously agreed that the current home designs in Australia are hindering their ability to support older people.

Around 1.3 million older Australians require help with day to day living, but only two thirds are having those needs met.

"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," explains Dr Sinclair.

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

Policymakers are being encouraged to reconsider the best forms of capital expenditure to support the delivery of public care services and housing needs of older Australians.

Dr Sinclair added that housing in Australia is largely unsuitable for older people and age-safe housing is also undersupplied in the current market.

"Age-specific housing development is often not an attractive investment compared to other housing or commercial development," says Dr Sinclair.

"Clearly from this report, inappropriate housing is a key factor influencing necessary levels of care, and this has been heightened by the pandemic. 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."

The full research report, Exploring the economic value embedded in housing built to universal design principles, can be found on RMIT University's website.

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