The Best Place to Grow Old

Resource type: Grantee Story

The Great Northern Haven housing development is a project of the Netwell Centre at the Dundalk Institute of Technology, which is developing new ideas that enhance the quality of life and well-being of older people and those who care for them, through integrated community-oriented services, more sustainable home and neighbourhood design, and age-friendly technologies.

“Older people, especially, get attached to community,” explains Rodd Bond, director of the Netwell Centre in Dundalk, Ireland. “And my work is about helping them stay close and nearby so they actually enjoy the connections that they have made over time.”

Based at the Dundalk Institute of Technology, the Netwell Centre is developing new ideas that enhance the quality of life and well-being of older people and those who care for them, through integrated community-oriented services, more sustainable home and neighbourhood design, and age-friendly technologies.

One project is the Great Northern Haven apartments in Dundalk. Bond defines it as “a collaboration among health services, local government and university, all asking, ‘How can technology, housing, and community come together to support older people? How can we help people live longer, in smarter places?’

“Three infrastructure components shape this age-friendly development: the 16-unit apartment building is green and ecological; it is adaptable in terms of ergonomics; and it contains sensor technologies to assist the older residents and help with communication. And the older people are co-designers. People living in the houses work on iPads we provide them to help design user interfaces,” said Mr. Bond.

This age-friendly approach puts the older people at the centre and they actively participate in shaping their community.

Róisín, 66, moved to the apartments two and half years ago. She is on disability because of severe arthritis, and her social worker recommended that she move into the national demonstration project for independent living.

“Before moving to Great Northern Haven I had my house broken into which made me very fearful. This was the last straw. I got the key on the 9th of September 2010 and I moved in on the 10th. I had a good night’s sleep that night, and every night since, with no fear. Now, I have absolutely no fears about security. I think I’m on holiday because of the balcony with a beautiful view of trees, greenery and our local church.

“Our minds are kept alert, which is very important. On Monday, I go to choir group. On Tuesday, I go to art. On Wednesday, I go to painting class. On Thursday, we have art as well. On Friday, we have iPad class.

“We’ve started using an iPad app that will let us take our blood pressure, and have it remotely monitored. Three years ago, the iPad would have been like speaking Dutch to me. I left school at 14. Now, the Internet is my friend! It is great to have my blood pressure monitored, and it is a joy to be a guinea pig for  others too.

“Before I came here, I had felt insecure, lonely, and so sad. Now, my depression has lifted. I have discovered what gifts I have. My whole life has changed. I am starting to live my life, and it is lovely. . I see a better future.”

The Great Northern Haven housing development is in County Louth, the first participant in Ireland’s Age-Friendly Cities & Counties Programme, which is a signature effort of Atlantic’s Ageing Programme in the Republic of Ireland. Age-Friendly Cities & Counties involve academic institutions, police, health care providers, local businesses, community groups and, most importantly, older people themselves, coming together voluntarily to develop and implement age-friendly strategies.

“We’ve created a new framework for thinking about ageing and quality of life,” explains Anne Connolly, Executive Director of Ireland’s Ageing Well Network, whose motto is “Making Ireland the best place to grow old in.”  “We’re working to create policy change and build support throughout the nation. We’ve been able to say, here’s an opportunity to do this in a smarter, different way. Where something is working well, we make it happen on a national level.”

“The joint conversations among service providers and local governments are now about shifting resources in support of older people,” says Bond. “It’s turned into an advocacy conversation. We’ve learned that if you can think of the older person as a person, and not as a patient at all, we are winning.”

Dundalk Institute of Technology is a grantee through Atlantic’s Ageing Programme in the Republic of Ireland, which funds efforts to enable “age friendly” communities to flourish.

Learn More

> Ireland’s Age Friendly Cities & Counties Programme
> Visit the Netwell Centre