An ageing population means that homes will have to be adapted to help older renters cope with the challenges that being elderly can bring and landlords have a major role to play in making the necessary changes

It is estimated that by 2050, 24.8 per cent of the UK’s population will be over 65 years old1 – and by the time they reach 70 it is likely that one in three people will have a health care issue. These statistics have serious implications for health and community services in the coming decades but DesHCA – Designing Homes For Healthy Cognitive Ageing – believes that they also present an opportunity for the private rented sector (PRS) to act now to create homes that are supportive for people as they age.

DesHCA is an innovative project funded by the UK Research & Innovation’s Healthy Ageing Challenge to draw together stakeholders from across the UK to investigate how people’s homes can support them as they age. Led by Professor Alison Bowes, the project was based at the University of Stirling and ran between March 2021 and February 2024.

DesHCA’s Impact Research Fellow Dr Catherine Pemble is one of a team of researchers exploring the different ways that homes can be adapted to support people as they age, and she recently gave a webinar in association with SAL chief executive John Blackwood to explain the issues and the strategies that private landlords can take to make subtle, thoughtful changes that boost accessibility for older tenants and future proof their properties.

She said: “We know that as people get older, they accumulate more health conditions and someone who turns 65 today is likely to spend about half of their remaining lifespan with a health condition that significantly impacts their mobility, cognition and general health.

“We also know that approximately 85 per cent of older adults would prefer to stay at home than go into care, even if they are diagnosed with something like dementia. However, at present only about 10 per cent of homes in the UK are equipped and able to support anyone with any kind of impairment, and the vast majority of those are physical mobility focused – not for cognitive issues or dementia.

“So we have a massive issue being set up for the near future between an increasingly ageing population and a housing stock that is not yet suitable or ready to accommodate this group of people.”

DesHCA’s research also highlights that people are not keen on the idea of ‘adaptations’ as they are often viewed as invasive, ugly and institutionalised. However, when the researchers dug a bit deeper they found that many people had made adaptations to their property to suit their needs, but had only considered them as home improvements, as Catherine explained: “In our research with older people we have asked them about the adaptations they have made to their homes and they often said that they had not put any in. But when we asked them about what the house was like when they moved in, they are happy to tell us all the changes they have made to make it more suited to themselves, such as making a doorway wider as they kept on knocking their hands on the side of it, or putting in a wet room to replace the bath to make it easier to wash. So it shows that there is a real disconnect between what people think of when we say adaptations, and what adaptations can be.

“However, a lot of what we are doing on the DesHCA project is saying that yes, eventually you may get to the point where you need to install a range of adaptations, but there is a whole tranche of subtle improvements that you can integrate into your home in your own style and aesthetic to prepare for ageing. For example, using colour or contrast to differentiate the floor from the wall and doors will help people to navigate the home more easily if they get dementia, while having glass fronts and large handles on kitchen cupboards can make a real difference if someone’s memory starts to fail.

“What we are talking about is essentially design that supports people to age where they are now, installed in the property before it ever becomes an issue. It is about landlords taking these steps today so that they can improve their property, while also making it more attractive to a larger number of people, including older tenants.”

DesHCA has encompassed the findings of its research in a free publication – Designing for Lifetime: tips and tricks for creating a home that supports you – that can be downloaded from their website

Catherine thinks the timing of the project is fortunate as many properties over the next few years will be undergoing refurbishment to meet the higher minimum energy efficiency standards of the government’s net zero targets, providing landlords with an opportunity to make simple but powerful changes to their properties that will support older tenants and that are part of their planned refurbishment. “After all,” she argued “why not use this moment to think about how properties can be made more suitable for older tenants, think about ways to add contrast to colour schemes, or update bathrooms and kitchens when properties are being renovated anyway?”

She added: “We are trying to change mindsets and raise awareness about what an adapted, age-inclusive home and an ageing population look like, what the benefits of that are, not just for older people themselves, but for anyone living in the home. It is about giving people the power to create a space that supports older people, and older tenants, in a way that fits with what they want the property to look like.

“While the changes we are proposing in our publication are helpful as people get older, they are equally helpful if you have a child, or if you have fallen over and broken your leg and are recovering at home. Landlords can do an awful lot to make their properties more accessible to everyone, which is a real benefit as it means that they potentially have a bigger pool of tenants to choose from.”

Catherine felt that there was a lot of interest and support from landlords at the SAL webinar, many of whom were actively thinking about ways to future proof their properties and prepare for the older people who will become an increasingly important market for 
the PRS.

She added: “I got the impression that the landlords at the webinar, to their credit, genuinely want to do well by their tenants and there was a real interest in how they can accommodate the needs of older people in the near future. However, they were not sure how to prepare their properties for this group so that is the whole idea behind building DesHCA’s bank of resources: to give property owners high quality, research-backed evidence they can use to develop future-proof homes to prepare for older tenants in a way that works for them.” //

Adapting to an older world – top tips


If you are painting walls or doors or replacing the floor, think about introducing contrast so it is easier to see where one object ends and another begins.


In kitchens, cupboard units with glass doors and external handles help people with cognitive impairment by reducing how much they need to rely on their memory to find what they need.


Consider walk-in showers and wet rooms with non-slip floors to create an attractive space where people can take care of themselves without the risk of slips, trips and falls.

For more information, get a copy of DesHCA’s Designing for Lifetime: tips and tricks for creating a home that supports you. Visit


85% of older adults would prefer to stay at home than go into care, even if they’re diagnosed with something like dementia.

10% of homes in the UK are equipped and able to support anyone with any kind of impairment.