Innovation@Home: Some ideas travel better than others

This week saw the publication of two reports looking at the housing needs of older adults.

First off we had the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ageing and Older People. The APPG’s in-depth inquiry into ‘Decent and Accessible Homes for Older People’, aims to understand the detrimental impact of poor housing on older people’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. 

The inquiry looked to gain insight into the challenges older people face across housing tenures, an understanding of the connection between poor housing standards and public health concerns and produce recommendations on how to improve housing for older people.

While many of the recommendations will be familiar to readers of the AAA’s ‘Neighbourhoods of the Future – Better Homes for an Ageing Population’ reports 2017 & 2019, it is encouraging to see so many influential institutions and agencies aligning to promote the same agenda.

Compiled by Age UK, the report makes 13 recommendations, including:

  • Integrate housing issues into health and care strategies and health and care issues into housing strategies
  • Legislate to ensure all new homes are built to lifetime standard
  • Adopt a national strategy on supported and specialist housing
  • Work to increase adaptations in homes and housing stock in the Private Rented Sector 

Follow the link below to read the report in full.

Looking beyond the UK, another report ‘Innovation@Home: Approaches to Successful Aging in Community from 25 Countries’ contains examples and interviews from around the world, exploring innovative approaches to ageing in community and reflecting the belief that, when it comes to promoting health in aging, good ideas have no borders.

Cosponsored by Grantmakers In Aging (GIA), a Washington, DC-based membership organization of philanthropies, and the WHO Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities,

Innovation@Home set out to identify examples of best practice in agefriendly housing and neighbourhoods across the world.

Comparing like with like was not an easy task, but the judges, of which I was one, enjoyed the challenge. My colleagues were Nathalie Röbbel, Technical Officer, World Health Organization. Stephanie Firestone, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor for Health and Age-friendly Communities, AARP International. Vivian Vasallo, Partnerships and Innovation Director, Fannie Mae and Betty Lynch, Community Champion, Avondale, Arizona.

Although language was something of a barrier, with many different models, pilots, and grassroots efforts often short-handed as “agefriendly housing,” we were able to establish common denominators. In the report approaches from around the world are explored according to the following six themes: 

  • The many ways of sharing housing
  • Approaches for retrofitting existing homes
  • Different ways to build new structures
  • Policies and practices for supporting people so they can live at home
  • Monitoring and other technology-based approaches and;
  • Incentivising positive behaviours through zoning/planning, policy, and funding

The report acknowledges that no single model will work everywhere, and some are closely tied to local policies or funding options. Many successful approaches do not require construction or large-scale change, but focus instead on involving volunteers, increasing community engagement, and improving coordination and availability of services in entire neighbourhoods. Critically, the judges were unanimous on one point: The importance of listening and respecting the strengths and preferences of older adults cannot be overstated. 

Some Ideas Travel Better than Others

Singapore is a front runner when it comes to thinking long term about technological innovation. The same is true of ageing and housing.

Honoured as “World Building of the Year” at the 2018 World Architecture Festival, the latest experiment by the Singapore Housing and Development Board is Kampung Admiralty (pictured above). State of the art in many respects the apartment complex incorporates “green features” such as rooftop community gardens, many co-located services onsite (a medical centre, childcare, grocery shopping, restaurants, and public transit). The building also features what the developer calls an "active aging hub", together with subsidized studio apartments for older people equipped with many accessibility and safety features. 

The report concludes that looking internationally for approaches to ageing in community yields fascinating ideas, as well as a number of considerations for communities, funders, governments, and others, such as:

No “one-size-fits-all” approach exists and no model can be expected to work everywhere.

Finding basic programme facts and contacts (much less evidence and evaluation) in this dynamic but young and highly decentralized field can be a challenge. So can navigating differences in culture and language.

Political systems matter. It is unclear whether models that depend on government funding can travel well to places that do not offer such support. Conversely, there are examples of government-supported systems that are resistant to innovation.

Ageism slows progress. “Ageism keeps older adults from thinking they should be allowed to ask for anything,” says Jennifer Campbell, GIA Innovation@Home project lead. “The idea of listening to older people too often boils down to just lip service, and older people are only invited in after everything is done.” 

The role of philanthropy varies. The US incubator-style approach to philanthropy is similar to what is called “social funding” or “social investment” in Europe and elsewhere.

Improving ageing in community must be multi-factorial. It’s not only homes, but neighbourhoods that need to be age-friendly, providing easy access to key services, especially public transport.
Download Innovation@Home here and the APPG inquiry into ‘Decent and accessible homes for older people’ here.

Look out for details of AAA's Neighbourhoods of the Future developments next month.

Image: Kampung Admiralty - used with permission.