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Creating friendly housing for older adults

Europe is aging. Eurostat population projections foresee that the number of people over 65 is expected to grow to 28.5 percent of the population by 2050. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the physical and social environments are key to whether people can remain healthy, independent and autonomous long into their old age. Therefore, housing is an important determinant for active and healthy aging. However, a large part of the housing stock in the European Union has not been designed to accommodate the needs of older adults.

“DESIgn for all methods to cREate age-friendly housing” (DESIRE), an Erasmus+ project, addresses this pressing issue. The project involves five partners: the Technical University of Bratislava from Slovakia and the project’s coordinator, Institute of Ethnology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences from Slovakia, SHINE 2Europe from Portugal, CETEM from Spain and InnoRenew CoE. Researchers from the InnoRenew CoE’s Human Health in the Built Environment research group – Nastja Podrekar Loredan, Matic Sašek, Dean Lipovac and Dr. Nejc Šarabon – are involved in the project.

The project started in December 2020 and will run until November 2022. The project partners are planning a number of activities, including:

  • A review of existing training courses in the partner countries on design for all (D4All);
  • Workshops to identify opportunities and challenges to be addressed in the design of the built environment for older adults;
  • Development of educational courses on designing the built environment for older adults, students, industry and end-users;
  • Creation of an online platform to make educational content accessible to all those interested in the built environment for older adults.

Some of the mentioned activities have already been carried out. At the beginning of 2021, project partners reviewed existing courses and trainings on D4All.

From the systematic overview of the vocational education and training programs in Slovenia, it appears that there is a wide range of education and training programs that provide basic knowledge and practices that could be useful for D4All. However, few programs offer courses with D4All as the main focus of the course.

In June and July 2021, InnoRenew CoE researchers held two workshops to better understand the needs of older adults related to mental health in the built environment and identify ergonomic features of the built environment important to older adults. Several professionals from architecture, ergonomics and health sciences participated in the workshops. The key outcomes were:

  • To promote the mental health of older adults in the built environment, the focus should be on green environments, use of natural materials, homeliness, adequate lighting, music, air quality, thermal comfort and noise reduction. Living spaces should be on the ground floor, furniture and accessories should be easy to use.
  • Ergonomic aspects relevant to older adults in the built environment are the adjustability of furniture, presence of safety handles, flat floors, absence of thresholds, non-slip carpets, adequate connection between the bedroom and the bathroom, adapted height of sockets and switches and placement of exercise equipment in the living environment.
  • Workshop participants agreed that the built environment should be safe and friendly and encourage physical activity for older adults.

The results of the review of existing programs, together with the results of the workshops, represent an important starting point for the project, which aims to provide professionals in the construction and interior design industries with the tools, knowledge, and competencies to apply the principles of D4All as an integral part of the design process of living environments for older adults.

Based on the results obtained so far, project partners are developing educational content that will be freely available to all through an online platform. The educational content will cover six topics: introduction to age-friendly and inclusive environments, aging process and design, age-friendly built environment–architecture, age-friendly built environment–interior design, age-friendly built environment–product design and product engineering.

By following universal design principles, housing can be created that is friendly to older adults, enabling them to feel good and be independent and autonomous in their living environment.

News about the DESIRE project can be found on social media by following the hashtag #DESIREprojectEU, and more information about the project is available on the official DESIRE website:

Nastja Podrekar Loredan, Dean Lipovac, Matic Sašek
Assistant Researchers at InnoRenew CoE