How the rise of tech-savvy and accessible housing villages looks to empower Scotland’s elderly population

15 March 2021

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In the wake of the pandemic, and a future in which Scotland’s elderly population is set to grow to new heights, the shortage of housing and homes fit for senior citizens presents a tall order for Scotland’s housing sector.

Over the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has shone a harsh light on how the elderly have suffered in isolation and loneliness more than most. Care homes have struggled under the strain of providing healthcare to vulnerable, elderly citizens round the clock, against the backdrop of a global health crisis which keeps families and loved ones at bay – only able to connect with one another through computer screens, windows and plastic screens.

Complex needs for solutions beyond those found in average homes across Scotland – filled with sharp corners and fiddly switches that elude even the fittest among us – pose a greater obstacle for those of a certain age merely trying to live independently in the comfort of their own homes.

Enter architects like David Burgher, who recently took the decision to depart from Scottish architectural design company, Aitken Turnbull, after 21 years to pursue housing design solutions for the elderly and those suffering dementia. His new calling has taken him into the sprawling world of Virtual Reality (VR), where headsets can be donned to transport users to completely new surroundings.

VR-EP has allowed David to meld his passion for creating pioneering new design and architecture, with his determination to improve accessibility in housing for the elderly – with the VR Empathy Platform providing direct insights for fellow designers into creating dementia-friendly homes. “The more I researched the devastating impact living with dementia has on individuals and their families, the more I realised that addressing issues around living environment and space needed a full-time focus” says David.

With both physical and mental deterioration being part and parcel of struggling with dementia, navigating average homes presents a tough challenge for sufferers. But it is one which can be mitigated by seeing the world through their eyes; VR-EP allows designers to comprehend the difficulties of fumbling in dark homes without much natural light, distinguishing between different materials and how stairs can prove an insurmountable challenge and risk to those with limited or impacted physical ability.

David continues: “I studied architecture because I was interested in how the built environment influences how we live. It has a significant role to play in supporting people to live well with dementia, especially when a person experiences visuospatial difficulties and where changes to an environment can compensate in part for reduced sensory, cognitive and motor ability.”

Such is the ethos that led Professor Norman Hutchison, chair in University of Aberdeen’s Business School, to research the current and future state of housing for over-55s in Scotland, after himself struggling to find safe and fully accessible senior housing in Aberdeen for his late mother.