Sheltered Housing: older people’s perceptions of choice and independence are key

Silverlinks in Rochdale is delivered by HMR Circle, a well-established organisation for older people.   Circle were approached by RBH (Rochdale Borough Housing) to see if any Silverlinks volunteers could help them with some research into older people’s views of sheltered housing.   RBH manages several independent living schemes (also known as sheltered housing) for people over the age of 55 and have recently experienced a decline in demand. RBH wanted to better understand the level of awareness and appeal of these properties to older people, and gain insight into what appeals and what doesn’t appeal.

Kim Ho, who delivers the Silverlinks project, gathered together several volunteers to form discussion groups.  The people were grouped by those that rejected the idea of moving to an independent living scheme and those who were open to the idea, and were split by age to see if any of these factors made a difference to a person’s perception of the schemes.

Findings

Overall, awareness of the availability of schemes seemed to be low, and a move to this type of housing is rarely seen as a “choice”.  Those that were “younger old” (55 – 64) would be more likely to consider independent living schemes if they had existing health issues; 65 – 74 year olds viewed a move as a “crisis move” and those over 75 were least likely to be open to the idea, preferring to meet their current needs at home.

The results of the discussions also found that there is a narrow view of who these type of schemes are for – people viewed them as being primarily for over 75s, mainly women, with mobility of care needs and no interest in outdoors.

Fundamental “must haves” were also identified by the groups.  Regardless of where you live, people felt that these fundamental choices were important:

  • Choice whether to be sociable or not
  • Choice to come and go as you please
  • Choice how to decorate your home
  • How much help & support you have with care providers
  • Whether you cook for yourself or not
  • Whether you wash, dry and iron your own clothes

Choice and independence is cherished, and people value total control over their lives, regardless of age.    Choice along with adaptations, helpful neighbours, family close by and an active social life were all considered key to create a positive lifestyle. The consultation also covered the design and atmosphere of the schemes.   People are looking for well-proportioned living space, and an engaging atmosphere  with a number of services (such as ability to keep a pet, wifi, café, regular trips out offered, additional storage, gardens).

If a scheme can offer all of these things, what would cause people to be wary of moving?

The focus groups identified that loss of independence is a fear for many people.  People fear becoming dependent on the scheme, they fear that living with only older people can be ageing, they may lose motivation to go out – not having their own front door is a factor in feeling independent, and they feel they may have a reduced choice of who they socialise with.

So what makes the ultimate scheme?  The focus group discussion came up with a list of what would make their ultimate housing scheme:

  • High quality décor throughout
  • High spec kitchens and bathrooms
  • Large living space
  • Big windows and lots of light
  • 24 hour warden service
  • Onsite café facility
  • Full programme of activities

Added security also adds to the appeal of a property, and those with additional mobility needs would also look for wider doorways, wetroom and wheelchair adapted kitchens.

Circle was able to provide several recommendations to RBH following the focus groups.   These included providing a choice of both formal and informal social activities at their schemes – a full activity programme including regular trips out; keeping independence and choice should be at the forefront of any schemes; consider larger flats and additional storage which would appeal to more people; promote use of guest accommodation and communal areas for entertaining guests which appeal to those that have family and friends visiting.

This was a really interesting piece of work, and RBH have already made several changes as a result of the recommendations – and since doing so have seen demand for their properties increase.     The key theme coming out of the work has really been that no matter where people live, they value the ability to live independently, with the choice to live as they wish.   Perception of sheltered housing schemes is sometimes that of being on par with a residential home, and promoting independent living, own front doors and a choice of social activities could help to change this view.

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