At a recent Retirement Living Conference I attended, it was made clear that there is a great need for versatile and comfortable accommodation options for more independent retirees. All too often a move in later years is as a result of a crisis where someone no longer has a choice but to leave their family home, which quite often is too large to run and maintain.
I know that there are some pioneering developers who have identified the need to provide for this gap in the market. They have created places designed for retirement living where residents have the flexibility to wander into town, visit relatives and so on, but where, when at home they have the support of healthcare professionals nearby. These homes provide an antidote to loneliness whilst also offering a retreat for relaxation.
The government made reference to the ageing population during the first ever Green GB Week in October this year. They suggested that they would “launch a competition to design the house of the future, more energy efficient, with quality affordable design and easily adaptable to help healthy ageing”. Yet, an all too frequently overlooked fact is that before people require the services of the NHS, they are living in the built environment we have created. Our buildings are the gateway to the NHS. Could the way we design and build our villages, towns and cities be encouraging illness? Or at least not helping?
The International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™) has identified this link in office spaces and, as a result, launched the WELL Building Standard™. This global rating system has been formed on the basis of medical and scientific research. For each of its seven concepts (Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind) it demonstrates how buildings can be designed to mitigate certain ailments that are affecting our:
- Cardiovascular System
- Digestive System
- Endocrine System
- Immune System
- Integumentary System
- Muscular System
- Nervous System
- Reproductive System
- Respiratory System
- Skeletal System
- Urinary System
In the UK, following Grenfell, we may have come a long way with regard to safety within our buildings; however, there are still a number of toxic materials that encroach our living, working and playing spaces. Whilst REACH (an EU regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) aims to provide a high level of protection for human health and the environment, there are several restricted substances on the REACH list that have been allowed in building materials.
These substances were to be avoided in the creation of the first “hypoallergenic house.” The family home documented in a recent episode of Grand Designs further proved the link between building materials and health. A family with children suffering from a long list of allergies had reached the point where the parents wanted to create an allergen free home. The build resulted in an immediate and obvious reduction in the children’s allergic reactions to a more manageable level. Surprisingly, aside from the air filtration system, the methods used to achieve the hypoallergenic house were not extreme: solvent free paints, reclaimed furniture, natural light and plants were some of the tactics incorporated in the design.
It is a fact that our immune systems weaken with time, and therefore that our senior citizens are those most at risk from pathogens - airborne and surface dwelling. By that token, integrating healthy design principles into retirement villages would surely be beneficial. There is a possibility that if a home is designed right, using proven principles of wellbeing, a resident’s life expectancy could be lengthened simply by inhabiting it. Their home could give them a longer life and reduce strain on the NHS. If I was a retiree choosing my home for the next phase of my life I know what I would choose.