Professor Anthea Tinker suggests ways to maximise independent living for the UK's rapidly ageing population
There are currently more than 1.5 million people aged 85 or over in the UK, and this is predicted to rise to over 5 million by 2050. This dramatic change in the country’s demographics as well as recent increases in the cost of institutional care have led to gloomy predictions about the nation’s ability to provide health and social care, pensions and housing to its oldest citizens.
How should this situation be addressed? One strategy is to ensure that older people are supported to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, rather than going into institutional care. For many older people, this scenario is far preferable and can reduce the financial costs of care. Research led by Professor Anthea Tinker has sought to identify the factors that enable older people to continue to live independently in their own homes. Her work has shown that while owning their own homes did give older people feelings of control, it also caused worry about costs and repairs, suggesting a role for affordable maintenance and repair services. Professor Tinker also examined the implications of remodelling sheltered housing or residential care units to create what are known as “extra care” facilities. Remodelled homes were found to provide better accommodation, more care and a better quality of life than conventional sheltered housing or residential care homes but there was enormous variation in design, and inconsistencies in admissions criteria caused confusion to older people and their families. In addition, measures were required to ensure that older people remained socially integrated in their communities.
Furthermore, Professor Tinker also examined the feasibility and costs of introducing assistive technology into older peoples’ homes – that is, any device or system that allows someone to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or to perform it more easily or safely. Contrary to popular opinion, older people were found to have positive attitudes towards technology and equipment in their homes, but the cost of adapting their homes is a potential barrier, and product design and quality are key.
Professor Tinker’s research has had a significant and widespread impact on guidelines and policies pertaining to older people both in this country and abroad. Her work informed the Government’s 2008 National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society as well as the Ministerial Group’s thinking on sheltered housing. Her findings on extra care housing were cited in the Government’s report Ready for Ageing? in 2013 and more recently in ‘Building Better Places’ from the House of Lords Select Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment. Her advice and insight have also been sought, and implemented, by the governments of countries worldwide. Her research has directly and substantially changed the culture of policy towards older people by demonstrating how important it is that older people are allowed to maintain their independence in later life and by actively promoting technologies and adaptations that do just that.