Innovation in Homes 4: Adapting with Age

For our “Innovation in Homes” series, Karen Ng, Investment Manager at Big Society Capital, interviewed Laura Wood. Laura is part of the Adapting with Age team at National Housing Federation’s Creating Our Future programme. 


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The Adapting with Age team has been created by the National Housing Federation to tackle the issues we face as an ageing population, with a focus on helping people live well and longer in their own homes.

Why is Adapting with Age important?

We know that people in the UK are living longer than ever; there are now half a million people in their 90s and life expectancy is continuing to increase. We’ve also seen first-hand, during our research, the devastating impact ageism is having on people’s health and wellbeing. We know that although many people are living longer, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are living better, with huge numbers of older people living in accommodation that is entirely unsuitable for their needs.

With a growing number of elderly people living in homes that were built pre 1980, meaning they were not built to the current accessibility standard, there are a growing number of people living in homes that are restrictive and unsuitable. With limited alternatives available people are being made disabled by their homes, as they struggle to adapt to their surroundings as their needs change.

"Inadequate homes cost the NHS £600 million pound per year, but at the minute, with very little emphasis on prevention, this is no surprise."

What’s the challenge?

How do we help keep people living well in their homes for longer, and how do we tackle negative stigmas associated with ageing and the products and services that go with it?

Ageing is scary. No one wants to face the realities that come with getting older, in fact research shows we often convince ourselves that we are younger than we actually are. That dress you’ve just bought, that hair style or your new trainers, I bet you took the inspiration from someone younger than yourself. I know I do. It should come as no great surprise that people in their 80’s should view themselves any differently. Who wants to admit that they struggle to carry their shopping? Or that they can’t quite walk to the bus stop without shortness of breath? We convince ourselves that we are still as youthful now as we were in our teens or our twenties. So when we are in our 80s, and someone comes along and tells us that we need to fit a clinical, unsightly grab rail into our home to help keep us active or that we have to wear a big red button around our neck in case we fall, why is that as good as it gets? Why are our choices so diminished the older we get?

"Older people have been served poor and unsuitable products for too long – disempowering, degrading and stigmatising products that make them feel vulnerable."

Research carried out by the Centre for Ageing Better revealed that the aesthetics of a product is an importance factor, with many people choosing to delay getting much needed home adaptations due to their clinical appearance and negative associations with vulnerability and loss of independence. The Centre for Ageing Better also found that rather than adapt their homes to their changing needs, people were more likely to adapt their behaviours, such as limiting their food and drink intake to avoid using the bathroom.

So, how are we proposing to tackle this?

Centre for Ageing Better research shows that minor adaptations can be really effective for keeping people active and well in their homes for longer, but couple this with people delaying getting them because of their clinical and stigmatising appearance, the products become almost redundant. So this is where we saw a space for us to disrupt the way things have always been done, and give older people their standards back, give them choice, and help keep them feeling young.

"Our idea is to design and manufacture new, attractive and exciting physical adaptations for around the home. We are calling for housing associations to install adaptations that have universal use in all homes."

Adaptations that are discreet, that aren’t “vulnerability indicators” and ultimately, adaptations that are invisible, that blend seamlessly into your everyday home.

We are currently working with designers and manufacturers to create adaptations that can be installed in general needs/mainstream properties that have are not recognised as physical adaptations but are available for use by all. Our suite of products are preventative and de-stigmatising and enable people in the UK to live better in their homes, longer.

These modern, invisible designs add real value to existing solutions. One of the challenges we are facing is that added value typically means added cost. Our first challenge is to align with various organisations to pilot our solutions and demonstrate our value for money and cost saving outcomes.