Care home and hospital pressures result in new generation of 'homes for life'

Architects 'excited' by new technically-advanced supportive housing

Homes of the future will be designed to be more adaptable and have high-tech telecare devices built in as the population ages and care and nursing homes run out of space to house all the vulnerable older people who need support.

Supportive housing can mean vulnerable and frail older people can stay living independently at home for longer

Delegates at the first annual Design in Mental Health Conference and Exhibition in Birmingham this week heard that dementia is now a national crisis and pressure is on architects to take the lead in creating residential environments that will support people throughout their lives.

Kerstin Sonnemann, a partner at Sonnemann Toon Architects, described it as an ‘exciting time’ for designers to build ‘lifetime’ homes that grow old with their occupants.

“Care home design has moved on significantly in recent years, but these schemes are the tip of the iceberg,” she explained. “Many people are reluctant to relocate into care homes and as architects we are very privileged to be able to develop some exciting solutions.

“Living at home for as long as possible will make a huge different to the lives of residents. Currently one in three households is single occupancy and as architects we need to consider that. People want to remain in their own homes, but are often concerned about how they will cope.”

In terms of design, this means minimising risk through architectural and technological innovations.

When designing supportive homes, Sonnemann said it is important to ensure that rooms can be easily adapted, for example if residents become less mobile and bathrooms or bedrooms have to be moved downstairs.

She showed conference delegates a diagram of a standard house, pointing out the potential for supportive design interventions at each stage. At the entrance, for example, there can be built-in cameras and video entry systems, as well as door alarms to ensure residents are safe, particularly if they tend to wander.

Sonnemann said: “Door alarms can be fitted for as little as £15 and could provide a lot of reassurance for friends and relatives.”

Once inside, corridors can feature motion control technology, unhinged doors, signage and stairgates to prevent injury or wandering. Vision panels in doors mean residents can also instantly differentiate between rooms.

Other design considerations include open cupboards and wardrobes so people can easily see and access what is inside. Control lighting, smart appliances and safety alarms and detectors, such as CO2 detectors and fire and flood warning solutions are also helpful, while slip resistant floors should be included in kitchens and bathrooms.

Sonnemann said: “It’s about eliminating critical risk through design. Things like temperature control, panic alarms, frosted windows, improved lighting and the use of colour can significantly improve the ability of a person to stay in the environment for longer.”

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