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Urgent need to develop sustainable housing policies for older people in their home environments

three people in a classroom
Christina Heller, PhD student, Department of Health Sciences, Lund University Mid-way review 2022/02/01. With Björn Slaug, main supervisor, and one of the reviewers Marianne Abramsson.

SWEAH PhD student Christina Heller just had her Mid-way review: "Simulation models as a tool to compare housing policies for a population aging in place".

Housing policies can be instrumental in addressing several major public health issues.

- Thus, there is an urgent need to develop sustainable housing policies to accommodate the growing number of seniors in accessible home environments. In order to support decision-makers to meet those needs, my simulation-models might be a valid and useful tool to extrapolate costs and effectiveness of different interventions to compare policy/intervention options, inform resource allocation decisions, generalize results obtained in one setting to others, and make head-to-head comparisons of alternative interventions, says Christina Heller. 

Due to the demographic aging, policymakers are giving more attention to how to develop and improve sustainable approaches to accommodate the higher proportion of seniors.

“Aging in place”

“Aging in place” has become a major policy strategy in many countries, because it has the potential to meet the needs of older people or those who want to live in their homes as long as possible and may also decrease public expenditures through the prioritization of home services over institutional care.

However, there is a higher proportion of seniors with declining health and considerable functional limitations staying in their housing environment, which poses demands on the ordinary housing stock, as environmental barriers in or outside the homes are common and hinder older people and people with functional limitations using their accommodations adequately.

Three major issues

The Swedish housing standard is generally high but a previous governmental report identified three major issues in the ordinary housing stock.
•    First, approximately 50 percent of inhabitants aged 65 years or older live in single-family houses where the bathroom is installed on the second floor.
•    Second, 50% of all accommodations build before the 1970s are still in use but before the late 1970s, no law considered elevators for buildings with more than one floor.
•    Third, an absence of maneuvering space for a rollator or wheelchair within ordinary housing is a major challenge for people with functional limitations and disabilities. Furthermore, the physical housing environment is a central health determinant.

Earlier research indicates that the housing environment may affect older people's autonomy, independence and participation. Moreover, there is evidence that living in an inappropriately designed housing environment may increase risks of fall accidents, poor mental health, as well as mortality.