Housing-with-Care: A New Paradigm?


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1      Abstract

The concept of ‘housing-with-care’ has emerged onto the agenda in relation to supporting independent living for older people. It links with older concepts like ‘sheltered housing’ and newer ones like ‘continuing care communities’. It also links with older concepts like housing adaptation and newer ones like smart homes, telecare and other technology-based supports for independent living.  The various housing arrangements for older people should be viewed within a broader and more holistic perspective on the interlink between housing and care supports.  This would help to identify some key types and levels of input that may be needed to support independent living and prevent or delay a need to move to institutional care. .

This paper will present results of some recent Irish research commissioned by the National Council on Ageing and Older People and carried out by the Work Research Centre in order to quantify and describe the nature and extent of supportive housing (including housing-with-care) on offer in Ireland. It also examines the potential contribution of new forms of technology to the housing with care spectrum. International research on housing for older people and relevant technology-based supports for independent living will be presented. Finally, the policy considerations for housing-with-care in Ireland will be outlined


2      Introduction and background

This paper will present results of some recent Irish and international research and outline some policy considerations in the Irish context.

2.1    Housing-with-care and related technology developments

The focus of this paper is the emerging concept of housing-with-care as a perspective on supporting older people to remain living independently and to avoid or delay the necessity to move into institutional care settings such as nursing homes.  A useful perspective is provided in the housing-with-care continuum developed by Cullen et al (2007).

This perspective sees the housing-with-care approach as a continuum of housing-related and/or care-related inputs that enable older people to continue living in their own homes for as long as possible and, if the time comes that this cannot be sustained, to provide a supportive housing option that enables them to still have a home of their own, but in a more sheltered/supported environment.

2.2    Enabling older people to remain living on their own homes

The first requirement is that older people who wish to do so are provided with the supports needed to enable them to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.  Such supports may be needed in relation to housing (through repairs and adaptations), care (through home care services) or a combination of the two.  Technological developments now offer considerable potential in relation to both of these aspects, including the wide range of assistive technologies that can support independence and the emerging concept of telecare as a way of extending the scope of traditional homecare services.  This will be explored in more detail later in this paper.

Repairs and adaptations

The extent to which the home is accessible to and suitably adapted to the needs of the older person can be a crucial factor in enabling them to remain living at home.  The availability of appropriate assistive technologies[1], when needed, can also play a key role. The quality and comfort of the home and living conditions are also of great importance.

Poor housing conditions

The evidence suggests that unsuitable housing is often an important factor in a move to supportive housing.  Although the various schemes addressing the housing conditions of older people (Essential Repairs Grant[2], Special Housing Aid for the Elderly[3]) have improved the situation for many older people over the years, the available evidence suggests that there are still a considerable number of older people living in poor quality housing (Figure 6.1).  Overall, it can be estimated that up to 10% of older people may be living in situations where repairs and home improvements are needed in order to maintain a reasonable quality of life and help to maintain independence.

Percentages of older people experiencing poor housing conditions

Source: (Department of the Environment / ESRI, 2001)

Need for home adaptations

Although there is a substantial cross-over between age-related and disability-related needs, there are no systematic data available on the numbers of older people who face problems remaining at home because of lack of access to necessary adaptations such as ramps, suitably designed bathrooms, stair lifts and so on.  However, it seems that this may well be a problematic area for many older people given the various problems that have been pointed to with the funding and administration of the Disabled Persons Grant[4] (e.g. NDA and Comhairle, 2003; NDA, 2006).  There can be considerable variability in the operation of the scheme across the country and lengthy delays in accessing the Grant have been experienced in some areas.

Home care

Here the focus is on traditional homecare services.

Traditional homecare services

Again, no systematic data are available regarding the extent to which lack of home care services poses a threat to older people who wish to continue to live in their own homes in Ireland.  However, it can be concluded that although home care services have improved in recent years, there is significant outstanding demand and the levels of service in Ireland are not yet on a par with those in countries with more developed community care infrastructures (Equality Authority, 2005).   The evidence suggests that difficulties with independent living are quite frequently a factor in an older person’s move to sheltered housing, even if a reasonable level of independence is typically required for new tenants.

3      Supportive housing

Supportive housing has been defined as group or sheltered housing schemes for older people where the residents have their own apartments or houses (Cullen et al 2007).  The key feature of this is having one’s own home but within some form of purpose-built, clustered arrangement rather than individual homes dispersed throughout the community.  Within this definition there can be a continuum of arrangements that vary in the amount of support and care that is provided for residents.

Increasing policy attention is being given to this area in Ireland, in particular to “sheltered” housing.  High expectations are being placed on it in relation to meeting housing and care needs of older people and delivering on the policy objective of avoiding or at least delaying the necessity for older people to move to residential care because they can no longer live independently in their own homes.

3.1    International situation and approaches

A number of different variants on the supportive housing approach can be found internationally.  In the USA and Australia, retirement and continuing care communities and assisted living facilities are increasingly popular models for the provision of housing-with-care.  In many cases, these target better-off older people who pay market rates for the housing and services that they receive.  In Ireland, the UK and other European countries, the sheltered housing model seems to predominate, with the housing-with-care elements mainly provided by the public sector or non-profit organisations.  Private markets, however, are also emerging with varying success.

Generally, a distinction between low support and higher support is apparent in most countries.  In some countries, the housing provider is also the care provider, while in others a mix of models can be found in operation, including voluntary provision of housing with external supply of care and voluntary provision of housing with internal supply of care.  Overall, two important emerging themes or trends can be detected across Europe: the increasing emphasis on giving more attention and resources to supporting older people to live in mainstream, non-congregate housing in the community, and the attention being paid to the provision of increasing care and support for those living in clustered housing to cater for older people with higher levels of need than was originally planned for.


Supply of housing-with-care across Europe

The table below presents some quantitative estimates for various European countries for the level of provision in the mid-1990s or later.  These data have been compiled from various sources and therefore may not always be entirely reliable, however they are useful comparitors to help us contextualise the Irish situation:


Country Units per 1,000 older people
Czech Republic 18
France 16-20
Germany 16
Norway 50
Finland 50+
Sweden 71.4
UK 60

The UK and Nordic Countries can therefore be seen as high supply countries.  However, two studies conducted in the UK in the mind-1990s (McCafferty 1994 and Tinker et al, 1995) found an over-supply of basic or low-support sheltered housing and an under-supply of extra-care housing in the UK.


Ageing in place?

UK research suggests that while many housing-with-care schemes aim to offer a home for life, this can often be problematic (Croucher et al, 2006).  Such housing may not be designed to accommodate people with advanced or severe forms of dementia, or with high levels of dependency.  This is compounded by a lack of explicit policies by housing providers on home for life.  Decisions about move-on placements are therefore often taken on an ad hoc basis.  A study of assisted living facilities in the US (Frank, 2001) concluded that such facilities tend to offer ‘prolonged residence’ rather than ‘ageing in place’.  This is because residents may be asked to move on if their care needs become too great, although often the specific circumstances under which they would be asked to move were not clear either to residents or to staff working in the organisation itself.  In general, it appears as thought housing-with-care is seen as alternative to, but not a complete replacement for, residential care.




Assessment of housing-with-care

A review of the UK literature in 1999 (Tinker et al, 1999) concluded that the majority of residents seem satisfied or very satisfied with their schemes and with their home/accommodation (McCafferty, 1994), most do not want to move.  Most, but not all, said they would advise older friends or relatives to live in sheltered housing (Tinker 1989).  One-in-five, however, said they wished they had stayed in their previous home (Tinker, 1989), as did one-in-six who had been in a scheme for less than five years (McCafferty, 1994).  Few felt that alternatives had been discussed with them.

Cost effectiveness

The issues of cost-effectiveness of different housing-with-care options is complex and there is no simple general rule that can be applied (Tinker et al, 1999).  Costs depend on the amount of care needed and comparisons are affected by how housing costs are calculated and allowed.  For a given level of need, UK studies suggest that the costs of care in very sheltered housing can often be less than in ordinary housing (due to less need for adaptations and more efficient delivery of care).  If housing costs are taken into account however, the apparent cost advantages diminish and even reverse.

Regarding the weekly costs of providing accommodation and care in residential institutions, ordinary sheltered housing and very sheltered housing, Netten and Curtis (2000) suggest that costs are typically lower in non-institutional settings.  It is important however, to ensure that like is being compared with like as people in institutional care settings may need and receive more care.  In this regard, Tinker et al (1999) found that different approaches may be more or less cost advantageous depending on the care requirements of the individual and whether or not family care is being provided.

3.2    Supportive housing in Ireland

The National Council for Ageing and Older People (NCAOP)[5] commissioned the Work Research Centre to conduct a national study of the nature and extent of supportive housing provision in Ireland, as well as examining current and future demand and need for such housing (Cullen et al, 2007).

The overall research approach included a number of core components:

  • A review of Irish and international literature related to supportive housing
  • A survey of voluntary housing associations and local authorities to quantify the nature and extent of supportive housing provision in Ireland
  • Secondary analysis of data to enable quantitative estimates of need and demand for supportive housing to be made
  • Qualitative interviews with key stakeholders
  • Focus group discussions with older people and family carers

Supportive housing in Ireland is distinguished by five dimensions as set out by Cullen et al (2007).

  1. Clustered: a number of individual units of accommodation are clustered together in one location
  2. Targeting older people: the study focused on older people clearly targeted as a client group
  3. One’s own home: to be included in the study, supportive housing schemes had to provide residents with their own home in the scheme. This may be a bedsit, apartment or house.  Each unit of accommodation should be self-contained, with its own bathroom, toilet and cooking facilities.
  4. Levels of support: by definition, supportive housing has an element of support for residents. At a minimum, this is provided through clustered or grouped housing which allows for social contact and collective security provisions.  Many schemes also provide additional supports to their residents, which may include an alarm system to alert support services when problem situations arise, communal facilities for residents, visiting support staff and on-site support staff.
  5. Affordability : housing can be defined as ‘supportive’ in terms of the four previous dimensions without reference to cost as it has relevance as a potential housing option for older people, rich and poor. In practice, however much of the provision of supportive housing has encompassed a strong affordability dimension via local authorities and the voluntary sector.  Recently, the private sector has begun to enter the area, but uptake appears to be limited.


Supply of supportive housing in Ireland 1989-2007

O’Connor et al (1989) conducted a study of the supply of supportive housing in the late 1980s and found 117 schemes across the country, 71 of which were local authority schemes (municipalities), 34 were voluntary, 7 private and 5 run by health boards.  The 117 schemes provided a total of 3,504 units of accommodation.  In 2005 the Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH, 2005) surveyed membership supply of supportive housing and identified 79 member organisations providing 3,165 units of accommodation.

In the 2007 (Cullen et al, 2007) a total provision of 9,232 units across Ireland were identified in 419 schemes.  248 of the identified schemes were provided by the voluntary sector (housing associations), and 171 were provided by local authorities.  This translates into a level of provision equal to 19.8 units per 1,000 older people.  A large proportion of the local authority provision was in Dublin City (3,330 units).  The voluntary sector constitutes the main (and often only) provider of supportive housing in more than three quarters of the 34 city and county areas in Ireland as illustrated in the figure below.


Relative importance of voluntary sector and local authorities in supply of supportive housing for older people



Both sectors address approximately the same core target group, that is, older people on low incomes with housing difficulties and/or other social needs.  None of the local authorities directly provide higher levels of support, whereas one third of the voluntary schemes do.



Levels of support provided by the voluntary sector

Almost three quarters (71%) of voluntary sector schemes were reported to have communal facilities.  Social facilities such as TV or living rooms and day centres were most frequently mentioned, with about two thirds of schemes (64%) having such facilities.  Just over one third (37%) mentioned having a dining room and associated communal meals, and 15% of schemes had communal laundry facilities.  Sixty per cent of schemes provided alarm facilities, half of which were systems linked to resident staff, and half linked to an external centre.

A five level scale was developed in order to reflect the overall level of supportiveness of schemes.  This refers to support and care provided directly by the voluntary sector housing providers.

Classification system for levels of support

Level of support/care Features
1 Basic group/clustered No additional supports other than the social/security aspects of group/clustered housing
2. Additional supports Provide additional supports such as communal facilities and/or social activities
3. Practical (ADL) help Provide help with practical activities such as shopping and housekeeping
4. Practical help and personal care Provide both practical help and personal care
5. Round-the-clock care Provide extensive care supports round the clock

Overall, more than one quarter (27.4%) of schemes could be classified as ones where the supportive housing provider provided only the basic benefits of clustered housing arrangements and almost two in five (39.8%) provided some level of additional support in terms of communal facilities and/or social activities.  Sixteen per cent provided help with the practical activities of daily living, 14% provided both practical and personal care, and only 2.7% provided round-the-clock care.


Levels of demand are not easy to assess.  Demand is difficult to measure for two main reasons.  Firstly, people may only consider supportive housing as an option for them when the need arises.  Secondly, demand is likely to be at least partially supply-led and will be influenced by the alternative options that are available.

This study focused on visible demand, estimated on the basis of vacancy and waiting list data from voluntary organisations and local authorities.  On the basis of these data, 3,000 older people were waiting for places in supportive housing schemes at the time of the study.

In terms of need, the study used three normative yardsticks expressed in terms of units per 1,000 older people (20 per 1,000, 25 per 1,000 and 50 per 1,000) against which to measure the extent to which there is enough supply to meet needs.  The data from the current study suggest that , for the country as a whole, only the lowest yardstick has been reached to date.  There are also wide variations across the country, with only half of areas reaching even 50 per cent of this target.  The level of provision of higher support units is lower than that which is desirable on the basis of experience in other countries.


4      Policy implications for Ireland

4.1    Supporting older people to remain in their own homes

Two main policy strands are involved in supporting older people who wish to remain in their original homes.

Community care infrastructure development

An essential part of maintaining older people in their own home is the ability to access comprehensive and integrated primary and community care, both in the local area and in their own home (Delaney et al, 2001).  While the HSE has taken significant steps towards the development of such services in Ireland, they remain fragmented in that pilot projects have been in place for some time, but national mainstreaming into one cohesive service has not taken place.   A comprehensive care management system, on which many telecare services depend, still remains to be implemented.

Repairs and adaptations

Recent moves to reform the older repairs and adaptations schemes into one new scheme known as the Housing Aid for Older People Scheme (DoEHLG, 2007) are intended to cut down on administration, make the process of application more accessible, and support a more seamless set of responses to older people’s needs.  Previous problems with the administration of the various strands of funding available for repairs and adaptations led to delays and variability of the operation of the schemes.  It will therefore be very important that the new scheme works to reduce inconsistency of availability across the country, reduce bureaucracy and increase accessibility of the scheme and reduce waiting times and delays.

In addition, housing and community services need to work closely together if they are to effectively support older people living at home.

4.2    Supportive housing

Some key policy issues arise when looking at the further development of supportive housing as a housing-with-care option for older people in Ireland.  We will focus those issues that deal directly with care in this paper.

Housing, care or both?

The role that supportive housing is expected to play in the spectrum of service provision for older people in Ireland needs to be clarified.  Historically, the early supportive housing schemes focused more on accommodation than on care provision.  However, current policy is now placing greater expectations on supportive housing as an environment in which community care services can be delivered, and sometimes as an alternative to residential care.  This means that the traditional focus on housing will have to be reviewed and the implications of incorporating care examined.

Who should be responsible?

Following on from this, if the role of supportive housing is to include some aspect of care provision, the question of who should be responsible for service delivery needs to be answered.  Currently the public and voluntary housing sectors bear the main responsibility for supportive housing.  The need to co-ordinate and integrate services across housing and care is becoming increasingly urgent.

How should the care be provided?

There is considerable variability in the way that care services are provided to residents of supportive housing and there is no system in place to ensure that needs are being met in a consistent manner across Ireland.  A key issue to be considered concerns the respective roles of housing organisations and community care services in the provision of care.  If an important role in care delivery is envisaged for supportive housing providers then systems need to be developed to assess capacity to deliver care and to provide the necessary financing to meet the costs of care provision.

When should it be offered and how?

Current allocation processes for places in supportive housing appear to vary considerable although priority generally tends to be give to older people on low incomes with housing difficulties or other needs.  There is a need for clarification on when supportive housing should be offered to older people (under what circumstances and set of needs) and how it should be offered (the respective roles of housing and care services).

How to achieve consistency across Ireland?

The variability of provision across Ireland evident from this study points to the need to develop a framework for supportive housing at national level, including guidance for the key stakeholders at local level.

4.3    Telecare and other technologies


Telecare and allied technologies have the potential to support older people at all points along the housing-with-care continuum.  Such technologies can, if implemented correctly, support independence and quality of life.  However, due regard must be given to the ethical principles of dignity, respect, privacy and consent in order to achieve this.


Assistive technology is defined by the Foundation for Assistive Technology (FAST)[6] as any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people.  Telecare, on the other hand, refers to any service that brings health and social care directly to a user, generally in their homes, supported by information and communication technology. It covers social alarms, lifestyle monitoring and telehealth (remote monitoring of vital signs for diagnosis, assessment and prevention) (NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency, 2008)


Older people living in mainstream housing in the community

In some countries such as the UK, telecare is being extensively promoted as a cost-effective way to help maintain older people in their own homes.  This is facilitated in the UK by the fact that social alarm systems are integrated into mainstream social care.  In Ireland, however, there are no systematic data on the extent to which older people face difficulties in remaining at home because of lack of access to assistive technologies or telecare[7].    However, historically these services have been underdeveloped in Ireland in comparison with international best practice (deWitte et al., 1994; Working Party on Technology and Telecommunications, 1996) and whilst there have been some improvements over the years it is acknowledged that more needs to be done (Equality Authority, 2005).

Another problem is that although there is support for socially monitored alarms under the Community Supports for Older People Scheme (funded by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs), social alarms are not yet integrated into health and social care.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the existing care infrastructure remains fragmented and under-developed.

As regards more advanced technologies, there have been some pilot trials of smart homes and telecare services but these services have not yet become mainstreamed and there is very little usage in practice in Ireland.  These factors combine to impede the exploitation of telecare within Irish social and home care services.


Technology and supportive housing

Telecare and related assistive technologies increasingly form an integral part of housing with care developments in Europe and the UK.  Housing providers feel that it enhances the quality of life of tenants, their families and staff, and there is an expectation that it will prolong the time that people can live in such developments as they age and possibly their care needs enhance.   Most telecare installations in these schemes consist of a core package of sensors with add-ons available depending on the needs of the resident.  Call centres are either set up by Telecare suppliers (i.e. Tunstall in the UK) or by the organisation itself, especially in the case of municipalities.

Significant RTD funding has been devoted to the development of ambient assisted living or ‘smart home’ technologies at European level in recent years.  This has encouraged the development of new devices and integrated systems that are increasingly context-aware.  The advantages of these new approaches include increased flexibility, allowing technology to fit around the lifestyle of the user (rather than the other way around) and a reduction in false alarms.

In the Irish context, social alarm systems are a more integral part of care in supportive housing than is the case for older people living in the community more generally.  The majority of schemes provided by housing associations have alarm systems linked into wardens or other staff.  However, for local authority schemes provision of such alarm systems are confined in the main to the Dublin area.  As regards more advanced telecare systems, one housing association now offers these as part of their supported housing-with-care service.  However very recent developments especially in the area of assistive technologies in housing with care schemes, indicate that more attention is being paid to the role of AT in supporting older people living outside institutional care, and that this is a field that will expand (depending on economic and social support/factors) in the future.  A number of voluntary providers have moved to develop independent living schemes incorporating telecare that target people with dementia and their spouses.  In addition, the technology provision in Ireland is moving beyond simple social alarms to more comprehensive ambient assisted living and smart home technologies.


[1] Assistive technology is the term now used to refer to the many technical aids and technologies – low tech and high tech – that can help older people who have functional difficulties to carry out everyday activities and remain living independently.  Examples include aids for mobility and sensory difficulties; aids for everyday activities such as cooking, dressing and bathing; and home automation systems.  Other important technologies for independent living are social alarms and telecare services.

[2] The Essential Repairs Grant is provided by local authorities with a view to helping the older person stay in their own home rather than move to local authority housing.

[3] The Special Housing Aid for the Elderly scheme of home improvements is operated by the Health Services Executive (HSE) Areas.  It aims to improve living conditions of older people by carrying out minor repairs to the main areas of an older person’s home, such as carpentry, plumbing, painting and decorating as well as general cleaning.

[4] The Disabled Persons Grant, administered by the local authorities, is the main publicly financed scheme to support home adaptations to meet the needs of people with disabilities

[5] www.ncaop.ie

[6] www.fastuk.org

[7] The main public provision of assistive technology is by the HSE Areas, with services also provided by voluntary organisations with public funding support

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