The global ageing megatrend: building homes for the future
The ageing population of Europe has been seen as a crisis to many as the rising costs of long term care and the challenges that affect the daily lives of older adults put more and more pressure on society. With 75 per cent of houses in the EU are deemed not suitable for independent living, there is now a huge demand for age-friendly homes. So, is this really a crisis, or is it an opportunity to help integrate people into society for longer while simultaneously tapping into a new construction market?
Populations around the world are ageing. This long-term trend began several decades ago in Europe due to increased life expectancy and declining birth rates. The result is that there is now more pressure on healthcare systems, social services and the working population, as older citizens become increasingly dependent upon others.
But what would happen if this trend were not treated as a challenge, but rather as an opportunity? People do not want to lose their independence – it is taken away from them. But now there is a growing group of businesses and researchers who believe that technology can give that independence back to them. This is what the AAL Programme, which funds ICT projects that promote active and healthy ageing, is all about.
The AAL Programme is, in its essence, all about making life easier for people as they get older. The challenges of ageing affect everyone, either personally or indirectly through relatives and loved ones. The AAL Programme is confronting this phenomenon head on by promoting the creation of state-of-the-art technological solutions that can help people live independent and active lives for longer.
Using technology to help people as they age makes sense for several reasons. By giving people back their ability to lead comfortable lives without being overly reliant upon others, it not only improves their quality of life but also takes some of the pressure off healthcare systems and informal carers such as family members.
As the “silver economy” emerges and people realise the potential of this growing market, one of the many opportunities to arise from this trend has been the need for more houses that are suitable for supporting independent living amongst older adults. It is estimated that 75 per cent of houses in the EU are deemed not suitable for independent living. In Germany alone it is estimated that the need for age-friendly houses exceeds 2.5 million already today. Without addressing this situation, the rapidly increasing costs of long-term care for older adults will quickly become unmanageable.
One system designed to make living at home easier that has arisen through an AAL project is Rosetta, which helps people with progressive chronic disabilities such as Alzheimer’s retain their autonomy and quality of life.The non-obtrusive sensory system which is set up around the home works by monitoring sleep patterns and daily activities so that caregivers and families of the user can be informed on the development of the illness. It can also raise the alarm of any serious deviation from normal behaviour that may indicate an accident or fall.
Investment in independent living solutions and age-friendly homes has the potential to have a huge positive economic impact on many SMEs developing their activities in key sectors such as construction, ICT, and local service and social enterprise sectors. The need for digitally enriched built environments that can support active and independent living is growing, and so now is the time to get involved.