The number of people aged over 85 will increase by 184% over the next 30 years, says the Government. ‘This will have a significant impact on the housing market, which will have to match their needs,’ explains a spokesman for Lifetime Homes. Houses will increasingly need to be suitable for the elderly. We can’t all move into granny annexes, and in a generation’s time, it may be a case of having the grandparents in the main house, and the great-grandparents in the annexe.

Lifetime Homes (www.lifetimehomes.org.uk), a partnership between Age UK, the Town and Country Planning Association, Habinteg Housing Association and the Royal Association for Disability Rights, promotes understanding of the elderly and handicapped’s needs in house design. Its set of criteria for architects and planners has received widespread support. Gordon Brown said that he wanted to see all new housing built to Lifetime Homes Standards by 2013, and Boris Johnson has championed their adoption in London.

Dower House

Some of these principles are obvious such as level or gently sloping access-others less so. Patrick Manwell, of Archadia Chartered Architects (www.archadia.co.uk), who specialises in designing homes for the elderly, explains: ‘Look at aspects such as bathrooms. Are the walls strong enough to allow grab handles to be added, if necessary, and is the loo sited near a handy wall?’

At present, the most visible sign of accommodation sympathetic to the needs of the elderly is the granny annexe. ‘Granny flats widen a property’s appeal,’ says James Way of Knight Frank, ‘as this accommodation may also be suitable for others, such as grown-up children living at home.’

‘A decent granny flat won’t necessarily add value to a property,’ believes David Smith of Carter Jonas. ‘What is more important is that this annexe is adaptable for future requirements.’ James Wyatt, proprietor of Barton Wyatt in Virginia Water agrees. ‘A large house here without a granny flat is hard to sell.

These flats are almost always used for staff, and those above the main bedroom floor are a no-no-Middle Eastern buyers generally wouldn’t dream of having staff living above them. Annexes add value on a simple basis of price per square foot-if the main house is worth £750 per square foot, the annexe will add value at the same rate.’

In building or adapting accommodation for the elderly, the key is to plan ahead. The intended occupant may be highly mobile now, but will this always be so? Rooms that can fit a wheelchair, with wide doors and turning space, may be necessary. ‘Generally, elderly relatives like large rooms, as much-loved pieces of furniture can be accommodated,’ advises Mr Way. ‘It’s the number of rooms they want to reduce more than their dimension when downsizing.’

Tall windows that throw light deep into a room and strong artificial lighting over work surfaces aid those whose eyesight is not as sharp as it was. Low windowsills not only bring in light, but also give views out to those who are seated. Raised flowerbeds are popular, as they are easily seen from within the building and more accessible for those who garden.

Sockets at floor level should normally be avoided, as well as high shelves and low cupboards. Under-counter appliances can be difficult to access and control switches and knobs should be in easily reachable locations. However, arthritic hands find lever handles easier to manoeuvre than knobs, which require twisting.

A doctor friend working in accident and emergency told me: ‘Make sure that the flat is carpeted, especially the bedroom. Carpets give far better grip, and if you’re going to have a fall, better it’s on this than on a hard floor. Rugs on wooden floors are a particular menace.’ ‘Planners are often happy to grant permission to convert outbuildings to residential accommodation which is specifically ancillary in nature,’ says Mr Way, ‘whereas permission for a completely separate dwelling that can be sold off will usually be resisted.’ A granny flat is normally classed as a separate dwelling and incurs its own Council Tax charge.

Design Tips

1. Plan for the future
2. No steps and level/gently sloping access
3. Large rooms
4. Tall windows and good artificial lighting
5. Lavatory near bedroom
6. Raised flowerbeds
7. Solid walls for grab handles
8. Non-slip floor surfaces
9. Lever handles
10. Sockets accessible