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Could retirement “loving” replace retirement living?

Growing old can be a lonely experience as the wonderful show Old People’s Home For 4-year-olds has shown us.

However, being old doesn’t have to mean being relegated to a retirement village or nursing home.

In fact, Australians are voting with their feet, and recent research shows that while retirement villages were once popular, that today 84% of Aussies  no longer want to live in residential care and instead prefer to “age in place”

according to a report prepared for the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.*

“The numbers tell the story,” says Melbourne Architect Taras Wolf, from Wolf Architects.

“Today 60% of the planet is over the age of 65, however this will double by 2050. And the number of people alive over the age of 80 will triple from $143m to $426m,” * says Taras.

And with lifespans expected to increase by 10 years in the next two decades, this ageing tsunami will create a demand for better, more practical and more communal aged care.

Wolf says in Europe we are already seeing trends where the housing is managed by the residents, such as the post-pandemic, award-winning Barcelona community project.

Luxury housing “co-ops” may also be the future for well-heeled, ageing Australians looking to avoid aged care facilities.

Unlike the elderly of yesterday, the over 55s today wield more financial power than any other social demographic, and in fact baby boomers today are 10 x wealthier than millennials.

“As a result of their wealth and influence, ageing populations around the world are increasingly demanding better aged care facilities,” says Taras.

This has included retirement villages or nursing homes in the past, however new trends might be smaller group homes, where property owners, either as friends or as business partners band together to replace the traditional aged care model as we know it.”

The award-winning, post-pandemic Barcelona community project, where housing is managed by residents, is one example of the new community architecture model.

And in aged care some retirement villages have adapted to include well-appointed libraries, onsite personal trainers, a private member’s club and exclusive dining facilities.

Dementia wayfinding and line-of-sight spatial planning could be other ideas, especially as downsizing is often an important consideration for people with dementia as smaller home sizes improve orientation and a general feeling of deinstitutionalisation.

Other recent trends are door stickers that recreate the doorways of where patients with dementia used to live, to help trigger memory.

“In Europe, we are increasingly seeing young and old communities live together, for instance in Helsinki young people who struggle to afford housing, can live in a retirement village in return for spending a set number of hours with the residents.

This is a really beautiful model where young live with the old. It helps relieves homelessness in the younger age group and provides social interactions with the older residents,” says Taras.

He says it is the “natural human urge” to make your home environment “your own”, which is why people scratch on walls in jails.

“When there are better and more ways to customise the aged care environment with activities and spaces that allow people to imprint their character and personality, this means they will be more likely to engage in that space.”

He says when designing for the elderly it’s not just the practical considerations that must be considered like rails and safety aspects, but how to keep the mind active, and how to customise the space to entice the user to use it.

“This can even integrate everything from indoor/outdoor swimming pools, or gyms to increase muscle strength as we age and also virtual reality kits which have been shown to help prevent falls as we age.   

“Another great innovation in aged care includes a room at an aged care facility in the UK that has been converted into virtual locomotive train trips, where residents can reminisce about all their holidays of yesteryear. It even features luggage racks opposite facing seats and a huge TV screen where residents can watch the English countryside roll by over afternoon tea which is served by carers (the train stewards).”

Sources: What Australians think of ageing and aged care, (ageing at home preferences) page 47.

United Nations Report: Growing at a slower pace, world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and could peak at nearly 11 billion around 2100