Designing Homes for Healthy Cognitive Ageing (DesHCA)

Identifying scalable and sustainable design improvements to homes that provide support for healthy cognitive ageing, allowing people to continue living in their homes for longer.



Lead Organisation

University of Stirling




Creating healthy Active places, Design for Age friendly homes, Living well with Cognitive Impairment

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About the project

As we age, many of us will experience cognitive changes, and for some of us, these will develop into dementia. We know that people’s homes can make the experience of cognitive changes more difficult, or can enable continuing inclusion and sense of self-worth and self-esteem. DesHCA will work with people experiencing ageing and cognitive change and those who design and develop housing. We will identify housing innovations that can support living better for longer with cognitive change. Our emphasis on healthy cognitive ageing goes beyond narrow conceptions of ‘dementia-friendly design’ into a more expansive and inclusive approach to housing innovation.

The multidisciplinary DesHCA team involves stakeholders from all areas of housing provision, including people experiencing ageing and cognitive change, architects and designers, housing experts, planners, builders and housing providers. Older people are integral to DesHCA and their health is at its heart. The project will design and build virtual and real designs that will act as demonstrators and test-beds for innovations to support healthy cognitive ageing. These designs will be evaluated from stakeholder points of view, then considered at a larger scale to examine their real-world feasibility. DesHCA has a unique opportunity to feed directly into the UK and Scottish Government City Region Deal for Central Scotland (Stirling and Clackmannanshire), providing groundwork for local housing developments. The focus of this is sustainable, lifetime health, community and economic development, addressing deprivation and inequality.

To achieve these aims, DesHCA takes a co-production approach, with the whole team working to identify innovations that engage with their real-world experiences and aspirations. We will use exciting and involving ways to collect data which will be used to inform the design of the demonstrator houses. These designs will evolve as stakeholders interact with them and provide feedback from their different points of view. To collect data, we will ask older people to map and evaluate their own homes and to experience and comment on new design features using virtual reality (VR). They will then collaborate with builders, architects and housing providers in VR workshops to identify practical, realistic and affordable designs that can support healthy cognitive ageing, and therefore longer healthy, independent life. Partners will then come together in interactive workshops to convert designs into plans within a fictional town, building and retrofitting homes, creating services and managing budgets. We will demonstrate how designs can work out in the real world, and how to bring together the various interests involved. Throughout, we will consider issues of costs, to inform business planning and help make decisions on implementation of the new designs.

The impact of DesHCA will be achieved through showing what works in housing design for healthy cognitive ageing. Immediately, DesHCA will feed into the City Region Deal and longer term we will provide tools for future developers to inform their decisions about housing for healthy cognitive ageing. Throughout the project, we will disseminate findings to the housing, architecture and building sectors through stakeholder networks. We will publish rigorous research findings to provide a peer reviewed, high quality research base for innovation. Thus we will go beyond recommendations and guidance to provide evidence to support delivery at scale, grounded in the co-production approach that draws on the real experience, interests and imperatives that drive different stakeholders.

DesHCA’s multidisciplinary team will build capacity among early career researchers in research leadership, working across disciplines such as architecture and planning, economics, sociology and across sectors with a range of different industrial and professional stakeholders, such as housing workers, planners and construction companies.


There is an urgent need to make the health of older workers more visible. One in three workers in the UK are aged 50+, and this figure is set to rise in coming decades. 44% of people aged 50-64 have a long- term health condition, and 21% of older workers who leave the labour market ‘early’ (before State Pension Age) cite health problems as the primary reason for leaving. New research is urgently needed to identify the most appropriate actions employers can take to prevent health conditions from developing in their older workforce, and to support older employees who have existing health problems. It is important to fill these gaps in our understanding because, with the right workplace supports in place, older people are more likely to be able to extend their working lives even if they experience long-term health issues. This urgency has been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic as both older workers and their employers reassess health needs and risks associated with older age, and consider alternative forms of working.

We know that the nature and quality of people’s work influences their health and that, conversely, people’s state of health influences their ability to work. What is less well-understood is how the relationship between work and health changes over time as people grow older. The experiences and needs of older workers have tended to be overlooked in previous research about work and health. When older workers have been considered, not enough attention has been paid to inequalities between older workers. We know little about how older workers’ health and well-being is influenced by factors such as gender, ethnicity, social class, occupation, type of employment, and unpaid caring roles. Moreover, some aspects of health and wellbeing that particularly affect older workers, such as menopause, dementia, and financial stability, are especially hidden.

Aim and objectives

Building upon existing research, this project will work with employers, older workers (including self-employed) and a range of stakeholders to deepen understanding of the ways in which physical, mental and financial well-being interact with workplace culture and supports to constrain or enable opportunities for productive later-life employment. These findings will be used to co-design a suite of innovative products and data-driven interventions to improve the health, well-being and financial stability of older workers. Our co-designed outputs will provide businesses and social enterprises with fit-for-purpose and scalable products, services and business models, which support people as they age.

Potential application and benefits

The potential impact will be significant – encouraging increased industry investment in healthy ageing at work so that people can remain active, productive, independent and socially connected across generations for as long as possible, thereby contributing to the Healthy Ageing Challenge mission of ensuring that ‘people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035’, whilst also supporting the UK policy goal of extending working life beyond traditional retirement ages. Better support for older workers will allow employers to retain experienced staff and avoid the costs of replacing them. The translation and adoption of interventions within the workplace will help to increase productivity, build resilience and sustainability within the ageing workforce, and create new market opportunities to promote economic growth.


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