What should the Australian neighbourhood of the future look like and how will it cater to an older population? This should be a key question in the current ageing population discussion—and is not one for aged care providers and planners exclusively.
As is well known, the world’s population is ageing fast. The pressure to meet the demand for appropriate accommodation and care for seniors is increasing. It’s a very real prospect that supply will not meet demand.
There are differing responses to this pressure around the globe. Some countries, such as Japan, are responding by invoking seniors’ friendly design at macro and micro levels throughout cities and communities.
Some individual states and local authorities in Australia have only relatively recently developed policies to address the needs of seniors in future environmental plans and bespoke developments. At a national level, there are limited, if any, effective legislated or enshrined policies for appropriate community planning and design for seniors.
The recent debate has largely been about the model and mode for funding of care and who pays, rather than about long term and sustainable planning for senior friendly communities.
Some forward looking provider organisations in Australia, seeing the wave coming, are responding, however, to the burgeoning need in a considered way by planning seniors’ friendly communities on their existing aged care and retirement sites. These communities are designed around the specific needs of seniors but are also often located within and are significantly connected to the broader community.
These communities are often referred to as Integrated Communities, an increasingly recognised concept in favour of ageing in place instead of the institutional-style and often isolating retirement village. Integrated Communities are usually established near to or within access of other allied support services such as hospitals, medical services and recreational facilities. Some of these communities will have mainstream residential accommodation, private hospitals, allied medical services, staff training centres and even child care centres on their sites. They will offer specific care services such as palliative or transitional care and will cater for specific ethnic or religious groups.
Some are creating unique stories around their developments to attract particular clientele such as learning-based centres co-located on university campuses as can be found in the United States. Lasell Village, in Newton, Massachusetts, imposes a formal education requirement, the only campus retirement community to do so. Each year, residents complete 450 hours of learning and physical activity (the number corresponds with the hours a college student spends in class per year) by taking courses, mentoring students and volunteering. The community, which offers continuing care, is managed by Lasell College, and the institutions are linked financially, academically, socially and geographically.
These communities will incorporate a range of accommodation that is seniors friendly and able to facilitate the delivery of care. More and more it is about choice, choice, choice! We are seeing a shift in the emphasis from a historical, albeit well-meaning, paternalistic approach to care over to one where the future resident is actually a future customer who will shop around to see what is on offer.
Savvy and empathetic operators are realising that to stay relevant and viable as well as useful into the future, the current collocated model of traditional nursing home and distinct Independent Living Units (ILUs) of itself will not be a sustainable model going forward. A whole new way of considering what their service offer is and how it is delivered is required. A hospitality focus model rather than a care focus model is likely to be the way of the future.
Integrated Communities by name are not seeking to create seniors exclusive enclaves. They are in fact embracing the ageing bias of the population and establishing platforms for seniors to live out their lives in a creative, meaningful and contributing way. Some of these communities will be targeted at specific niches such as ethnic or interest groups. Others will be looking to attract a true cross section of society.
The cumulative benefits of communities such as this are not lost on supportive local authorities. They have the potential to solve many social service, transport and connectivity issues with which councils currently struggle.
Integrated communities for seniors are not the magic bullet to solving the world’s ageing issue on their own but rather they form one creative solution with long term benefits and sustainability. Best of all, they are being driven by non-government providers of aged care who are committed to meeting the future needs of older Australians. In so doing, they are quietly re-writing policy without the need for esoteric debate in parliaments. Now, isn’t that refreshing?