Housing an Ageing Population
“We will consult on possible amendments to the planning guidelines to support the construction of… retirement villages for the elderly.’
The recently published A Programme for a Partnership Government document includes interesting policy initiatives, based on a five-year timeframe, such as the pledge to examine how the planning system may be used to develop housing for our ageing population.
Developing planning policy which focuses on housing an ageing population is a worthwhile exercise in light of the projected demographic patterns for Ireland in the coming decades. The 2011 census recorded more than a million older people (defined as being 65 and over) in the country. By 2021, this figure is expected to rise by 40% – a further 200,000 people.
This demographic shift and its housing requirements will bring added financial pressures. The Nursing Home Support (or ‘Fair Deal’) Scheme which provides over 22,000 bed spaces in long-stay residential care for older people cost the state €993 million in 2015 . As the number of older people increases and additional beds are needed, these costs will increase. The development of alternative and supporting models of older person housing could help to reduce them.
As people age, the needs that they have change in many respects, notably in relation to housing and the manner in which they can access services and navigate the built environment. Creating a coherent housing policy response to this means recognising that the individual nature of the older person’s experience of ageing will affect the manner in which the person ages in place.
‘Ageing in Place’
‘Ageing in place’ is a popular concept in current ageing policy that aims to retain older people in their community with some level of independence, rather than placing them in residential care. There are several distinct elements that the planning system can adopt to create housing and wider urban environments which facilitate and prioritise ageing in place over institutional residential care.
Location and Accessibility to Basic Services
Locating developments for older people within existing urban environments will be a key challenge for the planning system. Lands zoned for residential use will be in demand for development of housing to service other segments of the population. Effective planning and housing policy for the future will involve identifying the needs of the older demographic and balancing these with the rest of the population to find appropriate sites.
Critical Mass and Healthcare Services
Spatial considerations relating to the siting of older person housing developments are linked to the challenges of ensuring that there are an adequate number of units to make it economically feasible for the inclusion of healthcare facilities and services.
Urban Form and the Public Realm
Design can be managed by the planning system in order to facilitate ‘age resilience’ in practice. Service and facility design is important to dictate how older people can avail of and access supports in their area. The concept of ‘universal design’ refers to the composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, or disability.