Sheltered housing as a serious living alternative for older people is outdated and irrelevant. We need to be following the lead of America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and building retirement communities which give older people the lifestyle they deserve.
The ‘Nobody’s Listening’ report (scroll down to open policy report in PDF format) produced recently by Help the Aged was useful but doesn’t address the real heart of the issue – that the model of sheltered accommodation is flawed and needs rethinking.
Sheltered accommodation does not really meet the needs of older people any better than ordinary housing. Older people need access to care and support and, equally, access to a social life. Previous studies have shown that loneliness is the biggest threat and old style sheltered housing does little to address these issues. Because they do not have economies of scale, the provision of on site staff and services is relatively expensive and residents are reluctant to pay high service charges. The operators therefore find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
What is needed are proper, well-thought out communities which provide social and financial sustainability, communal areas, health and well-being support and on-going care when it’s needed. People don’t just want bricks and mortar – they want a lifestyle to enjoy.
In America retirement villages have been popular for around 30 years. One of the most ambitious projects to date is a 51 storey retirement community being built in Chicago and housing a host of facilities and services as well as high-specification apartments for the over 60s.
We can’t go straight from where we are to building skyscrapers but the industry needs to raise its sights and aim a lot higher. Our retirees are not getting the deal they deserve and the new baby boomer generations of retirees will be a lot more demanding.
We give our residents high spec homes, round-the-clock staff presence, hotel-style services such as restaurants and bars, sports facilities, gardens and cinemas. Our villages have libraries and shops, some have fitness suites.
They need to be self-contained communities built with comfort and sustainability as priorities. Places where you can enjoy life not just exist.