While most governments have made the issue a priority, housing for the elderly is a complex matter because it combines economic, political, cultural and public health topics. However, major trends are emerging following a number of state and institution-led initiatives, and also those of private sector actors.
Studies agree on the nature of the problem: most of the existing housing stock is not adapted to the needs of an aging population (JCHS). Back in 2008, the UK introduced the “lifetime home” concept, setting standards to allow the emergence of adjustable and flexible housing that can support inhabitants throughout their lives (CPA). The influence of this paradigm is still perceptible today. In Hong Kong, an NGO is advocating for a policy of economic incentives that would encourage the construction of 100% flexible housing (SCMP), and in Australia, the government has published a good practice guide on adaptable design (Australian Government). With his Skyler project, the architect Matthias Hollwich advocates the concept of “inclusive design”, which is a way of bringing all generations together (CityLab). The idea of universal design is thus making progress, but it has not yet been universally adopted (Professional Builder).
Institutions promoting holistic innovation
It is in this context that the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP), supported by institutions such as the European Commission (European Commission), OECD (OECD iLibrary), and the WHO (WHO), is advocating a cross-cutting and multisectoral approach, as well as a proactive strategy in the Silver Economy. Among the priority areas for development, the ECTP has highlighted the need for the establishment of European-level standards to ensure that all new housing is adapted to the aging population, and also the need to attract new private investors to stimulate R&D and innovation. In this respect, digital actors are regarded as one of the main targets.
IoT for the elderly
In the United States, major players in the tech industry have understood the opportunities offered by the Silver Economy (ECN). For example, the technology giant IBM has already positioned itself in the smart homes for seniors niche and is studying how older people interact with their homes in a ThinkLab (IBM). A partnership recently conducted with Nokia is paving the way for a future where homes are packed with sensors to control lighting, ovens, fridges, cooking, medication, and even sleep: the IoT could support an infinity of tasks that are otherwise complicated or pose an accident risk to elderly citizens, thus helping people stay in their own homes, rather than going into care. The private sector is far from being the only actors concerned: while cities around the world are changing, housing policies for senior citizens are just one piece of the smart city puzzle, which must also integrate infrastructure and services (The Guardian).