IT'S no secret that most Australians want to remain living at home for as long as possible; but while that's the dream, our home can become a nightmare as we age.
Why? Because we haven't done enough to modify our properties, and very few are built using universal design principles, whereby a home is suitable for people of all ages and abilities.
Research by the Global Centre for Modern Ageing has found that despite wanting to stay at home, only 17 per cent of the older people surveyed thought their home would need repairs or modifications to enable them to do so.
Even among those already experiencing difficulties at home, only 40 per cent acknowledged the need for home modifications.
Surprisingly, our desire to remain living at home increases with age.
The centre's report, Ageing in the Right Place, an Australian Perspective, reveals that almost two-thirds of those over 75 believe they will stay in their home, double that of the youngest age sector surveyed (55-64).
According to centre chief executive Julianne Parkinson, the research identifies an opportunity for industry to provide greater public education around home modifications to help people understand their needs, the options available to them, and the processes involved before decisions are rushed or forced.
Affordability and being able to find trusted builders and tradespeople were identified as key barriers to making changes around the home.
Drawing on the research, the centre has created a House-Home-Haven framework to encourage people to think how houses can be transformed into haven-like environments.
It has identified seven needs of the "right" place: choice, safety, comfort, access, independence, connection and happiness.
The framework can be used by individuals and families and can also help industry to take a more client-centric approach when developing commercially viable homes, retirement villages and aged care facilities that enable quality of living.
So why are so many homes, even relatively new ones, not user friendly to older people?
"The idea of wellbeing is modelled on a healthy, middle-aged man, and so that is how it [the built environment] is designed," Professor Catherine Bridge who runs the Livability Design Lab at UNSW built environment, told the UNSW Magazine's Ben Knight.
Professor Bridge says the accessibility of the built environment is often overlooked; and even designs that are accessible are typically not aesthetic.
"Historically, modifications such as handrails and ramps have been designed by modifying industrial equipment ...or they're things you would see in a hospital or in a public access bathroom, which are stigmatising because they scream 'disability'."
Roy Lewisson has made a living designing and building sustainable homes. When he bought the block next to his in the City of Fremantle, his first vision was to develop three typical double-storey tilt-up "cookie-cutter suburban units".
That changed when his architect Michelle Blakeley told him of her parents downsizing to a double-storey inner-city apartment. They soon realised that as 70-somethings, the second storey just wasn't practical.
"They loved the location but had real trouble finding exactly what they wanted - single-storey living that was future-proofed to allow them to age in place," she said.
A plan began to take shape.
"The needs of a 60-year-old may well change by the time they reach 70 or 80, but it's not practical to be moving house each time those needs change," Roy said.
"For those who prefer to live independently - and are fortunate enough to be healthy enough to do so - a retirement village or aged care living is not and option.
"And because we are living longer, this phase of our life could be as long as 20 or 30 years. So living choices are important."
Roy decided on a single-storey floor plan, two bedrooms/two bathrooms, ergonomically designed and universally accessible with wider doorways and corridors and no trip hazards; low maintenance and boasting good sustainability credentials for lower energy bills, greater comfort and a smaller carbon footprint. And no strata - "people are peeved off with strata and the fees".
The bedrooms are separated so that, at some future time if a live-in carer is required, the accommodation is suitable.
Each house also has a 60 sq m internal courtyard that becomes part of the living space.
The homes are flooded with light and wheelchair access is available to every area.
The first unit in Roy's development in White Gum Valley, WA, is almost complete. Roy plans to only sell two of the homes: he and his wife plan to keep the other one for themselves.
Find out more by contacting Roy on 0434-999-326.