In West Yorkshire, a dedicated task force is building an understanding of older people’s housing and care needs with the aim of keeping them in their own homes for longer, writes Yvonne Castle, CEO of Johnny Johnson Housing
In 2020, one in 14 people aged over 65 were living with dementia in England. This is expected to rise to one in 10 people by 2030 – a staggering forecast and one that is uppermost in the minds of the West Yorkshire Dementia-ready Housing Task Force.
The task force was established in March 2022, to deliver the commitment made by the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, to ensure older people’s housing and related services are dementia friendly.
It is made up of representatives from across West Yorkshire: local authority housing and occupational therapy teams, housing associations, public health, NHS, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), Homes England, the Alzheimer’s Society, Leeds Older People’s Forum, the West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership and academics.
The task force has made a commitment to focus on the individual living with dementia, to understand their needs and to learn about how they are impacted by care services and the home.
Another key driver for this committed, enthusiastic group is the statement “Every decision about care is also a decision about housing” – housing is a key determinant of health and quality of life. It is taken from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People report Housing for people with dementia – are we ready?, which was published in February 2021 and has guided the task force in its objectives and actions.
The task force meets regularly, and is building a joint understanding of older people’s housing and care in West Yorkshire, as well as good practice in housing for those with dementia. This research has included visiting two exemplary housing schemes in West Yorkshire – Fern House, in Bingley, managed by the Abbeyfield Society, and Railway Bridge View, in Brighouse, managed by Home Group.
These homes use a mix of innovation and common sense to help their residents navigate their environment – distinctive front doors, open-plan layouts, and glazed kitchen cabinets, for instance – and enjoy a good quality of life, with social interaction enabled by lots of communal facilities and great quality external space.
However, about two-thirds of adults living with dementia do not live in purpose-designed housing. Helping people to stay in their own homes for longer leads to happier and healthier residents, but will also mean fewer empty homes, less pressure on hospital beds (a home that is not dementia-friendly can lead to falls and other accidents that are life-changing), and more stable communities, as stronger social ties can form over longer periods.
The task force has been exploring ways that simple changes could be made in housing providers’ existing stock, working with the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership through a new network of ‘dementia champions’. The champions have made a commitment to raise awareness of the condition, promote staff training and communicate with each other to share best practice.
Also on the task force’s agenda is creating a West Yorkshire dementia-ready housing information hub, to signpost those seeking support and information, and feeding into West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s emerging housing strategy.
While the current social housing landscape is challenging, the task force believes that future-proofing homes to be dementia friendly is a great investment. With one in 10 of us over the age of 65 living with dementia in just seven years’ time, there’s no time to waste.
Yvonne Castle is CEO at Johnnie Johnson Housing; a not-for-profit housing association dedicated to offering quality and affordable homes in the North of England. Yvonne is the chair of the West Yorkshire Dementia-ready Housing Task Force.