Housing continues to change for retirement living

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Many of us have heard stories of ‘little old ladies’ who call cruise ships their home.

Or read the joke that’s sent (and resent) about the ‘benefits’ of retirement living on a cruise ship. However, where and how we live in retirement isn’t a frivolous matter, and most people can only dream of cruising full time.

A recent retirement housing seminar and panel discussion in Melbourne highlighted the need to talk about future needs of retirees. It’s estimated that by 2053 one quarter of Australians will be over the age of 65 years. And many of them will live alone.

Old ways of addressing retirement living will simply not ‘cut it’ among the new wave of retirees. The concept of the ‘Young/Old’ (old in years, but having the characteristics of youth) or of the ‘Third Age’ is likely to mean that the ‘Young/Old’ will have decades before they need care.

‘Adaptation’ was a word frequently used by architects during the discussion. ‘Architects should be looking at adapting homes and neighbourhoods for people who want to stay there, rather than focusing on aged care,’ said one. Of course, he wasn’t dismissing aged-care homes, but saying that times will change.

What’s in a word? Plenty, it seems. The meaning of ‘home’, said one presenter, is an intangible concept. Home is not just a building, it’s the surrounds, the neighbourhood, and the people in the neighbourhood you know or recognise. It could be the people you chat with, nod to, like, or even dislike in the area.

For one speaker, the ‘Sunset Men’s Home’ of his youth was where many older people didn’t want to end up.

During the discussion of our DMA—‘Density, Mix and Access’—the question was asked, ‘Is design living up to the challenge?’ The head of planning and design for a retirement living provider gave an overview of three different examples of designs.

The first was in coastal Victoria. Here there were lots of car spaces for residents, a children’s playground, and gardens.

The next was of suburban living. The company had developed retirement living built around a village square, with a central kitchen hub, short corridors (less like a hospital), a coffee shop and other facilities.

The final example was of an inner city, vertical, retirement living that had a diverse community with many people used to living closer together. It’s located in an inner Melbourne suburb. One floor of the complex is comprised of people from one ethnic background.

These people hadn’t wanted a separate building but wanted to be part of a vertical community. There had also been approaches from other groups with different backgrounds.

The company is building adaptable housing for the changing needs of residents as they age so that health aids and equipment can be added if needed.

And what of keeping older people connected in their homes? One city council showed that many people in their 80s and 90s were successfully communicating with one another via their iPads with a specially designed App. They also shared photos.

The evidence is that some in a research group struggled with the technology and their preference was to have ‘interactions on the street’—face-to-face communication. The important point here was that technology can be a sensitive subject, and respecting older people and their preferences is very important.

Stereotypes shouldn’t be reinforced. It was mentioned that we’re prejudiced to think that the identity of the elderly is ‘fixed, finished, and over’. Compare that sentiment to how we think of young people who have a lot of their identity built around learning environments and intellectual skills.

The suggestion was that the identity of older people should be dynamic and changing with new people, friends, and experiences being a part of ageing.

Housing for people in their older years is changing and will continue to change.

Jill Weeks is the author of 21 Ways to Retire and co-author of Where to Retire in Australia and Retire Bizzi. She is a regular contributor to ABC radio.

Category: Lifestyle, Where to Live

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