The aging of our population is one of the great challenges which many parts of the developed world will have to deal with during the years to come. According to Statistics Sweden the total population of elderly will increase by 30% until 2050, which means that about 25% of the population will be over 65. This increase comes with rising cost in health care services, and keeping these costs sustainable is a major political issue. Relatively new policies and concepts, like Aging in Place, Age Friendly Cities, and Active Aging, try to mitigate these costs. Consequently, the increase of elderly will have a great impact on the way we plan our cities.
Currently most of our elderly don’t want to change dwelling. Many of them have lived in their house or apartment for many years, and often they have built up a large support network of family and friends in their neighbourhoods. Many research studies have shown that the elderly are in general more satisfied with their living conditions than younger people. Therefore, enabling elderly to live in their own house, like the Aging in Place policy does, seems as a positive development.
It must be said, however, that there are also those who are skeptical upon the Aging in Place Policy. Researchers Jim Ogg and Sarah Hillcoat-Nallétamby for instance, argue that we have been measuring incorrectly how satisfied people are with their housing situation. Their point is that even though the elderly’s satisfaction is high, there is a share of elderly that do wish to move. Their desires to move are not so much influenced by their satisfaction, the researchers argue, but rather by their dislikes. They found that the elderly seem to be more attached to people, instead of the house they live in. This result lets us think more about the conceptual definition of Aging in Place. Is “in place” their own house, or is it the geographical location their support network is based?
However that discussion plays out, the fact is still that many policies are based on keeping elderly in their dwellings as long as possible, and that most elderly still indicate that they would like to stay in their house as long as they can. Satisfaction related to moving patterns should maybe be measured in an alternative way, but at the moment the satisfaction still seems to be outweighing the dislikes. Therefore it is important that we continue thinking about how we can support elderly that want to Age in Place.
Depending on where the elderly live, different obstacles might disable them in their daily life. In the US and Canada, for instance, the car dependent suburbs and exurbs are seen as a threat to aging in place. As the driving ability of elderly people declines, the relatively large distances to friends and basic services makes daily life less convenient. This increases the likelihood that these elderly get trapped in social isolation. But also in cities, where family and friends might be geographically closer, relative distances, or lack in time, might still leave the elderly in a lack of help and social contact.
The problem of social isolation is of course more likely if the elder is widowed, or did not have a partner to begin with. Losing a spouse, besides the loneliness, can also have a negative impact on the financial situation of individual. The consequences are often higher for women than they are for men, because women on average have lower pensions, due to gaps in their working life and income inequality.
So, the decreasing health, and the possible lowered financial position, form threats to the elderly’s ability to age in place.
Shouldn’t we age in place?
In 2012 Typhaine de Penfentenyo had a brilliant idea. When she looked at the elderly’s situation, she saw a group who wanted to live in their own house, but also noticed the obstacles for them to do so. Many daily chores had become difficult. Things like doing groceries, walking with the dog, mowing the lawn, are not as self-evidently possible as when you are young. At the same time de Penfentenyo noticed the problematic housing market, especially for students. Her idea? Linking these students to the elderly that often live in dwellings that have more space than needed. Why not rent out a room to a student in need? These students in turn can help the elderly with daily chores, in return for reduced rent, or no rent at all. It is a win-win situation.
De Penfentenyo’s organisation operates in Paris, France, as well as in other smaller cities around the country. However, also in other countries intergenerational living projects have started in recent years. In Deventer, the Netherlands, for instance, where students live for free in the empty rooms of an elderly home. In return they spend about 30 hours a week with the older residents, social time for which the regular staff often doesn’t have any time. Another elderly home in the Netherlands, located in Arnhem, has already shown interest in copying this concept.
Stockholm is currently facing great housing deficits, with an overheated housing market, and long waiting lists for rental contracts. The situation for students is no different: last year a group of newly arrived students had to camp on Stockholm University’s campus due to lack of accommodation. At the same time, many elderly Stockholmers live in dwellings in which they could easily spare a room. Despite the relatively high social security in Sweden, also here groups of people are struggling.
That is why I would like to see an NGO, or a governmental organisation, that helps students and elderly in Stockholm to find each other. Just think about it, we could even link interests, a young architecture student that can help out a retired architect