What do older people want from retirement housing? David Sinclair, Director, ILC-UK

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Earlier this year, the American singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet announced plans to launch a themed retirement community based on his Margaritaville song and chain of restaurants. 100,000 Americans signed up for more information about the initiative. Jimmy Buffet has subsequently broke the ground on a second scheme.

Around 3.5 million older people are interested in downsizing and buying a retirement property. Yet here in the UK, despite the significant wealth held by many older people, supply of new and innovative schemes like those introduced by Mr Buffet are way behind where the US finds itself.

At the current market trends, it would take 20 years for supply to meet the demand of just half of people aged 60+ interested in downsizing.

What needs to be done?

“Adaptations” must be mainstreamed

People don’t want disability equipment. They want good, attractive products and services which work. Look at the success of stores such as Lakeland, offering easy to use, affordable and attractive products on the high street. Professor Sheila Peace’s work on kitchens shows that mainstream providers of household equipment aren’t meeting our needs as we age. I recently had a new kitchen fitted and was advised by the salesman not to buy a product which helped me reach the back of a cupboard because “that was for older people”.

We need plenty of communal space and outside space

About 15 years ago I spent a year living in a block of flats with 15 older widows in Romania. They didn’t have much money. But outside the flats they had a bench where they sat and chatted every day from early spring to late winter. The evidence of the value isn’t just anecdotal. The I’DGO project found that “the design of Britain’s gardens, streets, neighbourhoods and open spaces affects older people’s ability to age well and live independently”. And open space should be free to be used by residents. I’m not moving in unless I can take my Chickens.
DS cock

Retirement communities must be embedded within towns and cities

Towns and cities must better deliver what older people want. There is no point in great accommodation if you can’t get to local facilities. Towns and Cities nearby must be Age Friendly. And there must be good transport to ensure people can get there and back.

Whilst there is much current policy concern about the potential of the night-time economy there are few initiatives to consider how to make cities age friendly in the evening. People won’t go out and be active unless they feel safe and there are things for them to do.

Services and experiences should be sold in

We know that the hassle of maintenance is one of the reasons people downsize or want to move (56%). We must ensure that retirement communities are easy to maintain and that they are well managed. Builders should learn from the Premier Inn’s of the world who for example, design rooms to ensure ease and speed of cleaning.

But it’s not just maintenance which is important. Future retirement housing options should include a major service offer. And providers need to get better at selling these services in. We need imagination. Yes people may want cleaning services, and internet access. But they might also be willing to pay for IT support; taxis and driverless cars at the door; food delivery services and perhaps private healthcare on site.

Retirement housing has to be affordable (not necessarily cheap)

We need to recognise that housing remains the main form of wealth for current and future generations of older people. Older people will want innovative mortgage vehicles. We need homes for wealthy and those who are less well off. Perhaps stamp duty exemptions would break down one of the financial barriers to moving.

Providers should help older people get over the emotional barrier to moving

An ILC-UK survey found that nearly one third of older people not intending to downsize said it was because of an emotional attachment to their homes. Almost four in ten of those aged 75+ wouldn’t move for the same reason. Yet have providers thought about how this barrier can be overcome? What about working with new residents to take digital photos of “memories” which can then be displayed on arrival in a new home. One speaker at the Housing&Care 21 conference said that one of their residents ultimately made the decision to move as she became convinced that “having stuff was less important than having relationships with people”.

Retirement housing should be an easy option

The very nature of moving – packing up the house and exploring the housing market – may put off people from considering the benefits of downsizing. Almost 3 in 10 older people worry about disruption (40.0% of those 75+). I have heard of schemes provide support to help people clear the loft as well as actually move house.

Retirement housing should be seen as an attractive option rather than somewhere to go to die

Some people may see downsizing as downgrading or moving into lesser quality accommodation. The prestige and pride people take in their homes may discourage them from considering downsizing as they worry how it might be perceived by others.

We have seen major changes in student housing over the past 10 years. We now have smart internet enabled flats with shared services. If we are to better engage people with retirement housing, we need to work out how to make retirement housing as aspirational for an older person as student accommodation is for a younger person.

We must also communicate that a retirement home is still your own home. Wanless found that 62% want to live in their own home. Yet a retirement home is home.

The housing offer should make the most of new technology

New technology offers huge potential to help us stay warm; engaged and more secure. Schemes must be ready to make the most of new technology whether that be wearables; the internet of things; 3D printing or the sophisticated use of data to deliver personalised services.

Yet we are still too often failing to fit basic low-level adaptations to ensure the home is easy to use. Simple good quality inclusive design should be the priority followed by interesting, exciting and easy to use technology.

An end to discrimination and patronising

Some of the imagery used in selling retirement properties remains stereotypically bad. Many images seem to deny the ageing process. Providers need to have honest conversations about how we will change as we age and how their services can help. Let’s not patronise people into thinking ageing won’t happen to them. And let’s emphasise how schemes can support people to do exercise, stop smoking or cut down on drinking for example.

Housing should help people stay healthy

We know good quality housing is good for us. Our work on Extra Care revealed that good housing with care is both good in terms of health but also in terms of reducing isolation and loneliness. A survey we did last year found that nearly two-thirds of homeowners reported improved wellbeing after moving into specialist retirement housing.

We need to make the housing market work for older people

The housing market is not working for older or younger people. We aren’t building enough or creating the right incentives for people to move.

Flat living (with concierge services) would work well for many older people yet there seem to be limited initiatives to support older people to move to city centre flats.

If we don’t get the market working properly, people will find their own solutions. There was a story of a couple who moved into a Travelodge, saying “for us it’s a better and cheaper option than an old people’s home and we’re well looked after.” Others find themselves moving into Park homes, some of which are great, others, much less so.

Retirement housing could have a rosy future if we get it right. During the Housing&Care 21 conference delegates were asked if they would move into retirement housing. If UK providers found a way to create the equivalent of Margarittaville, then I would. As long as I could take my Chickens.

David Sinclair presented this 12 point plan at the Housing&Care 21 Conference on the Future of Older Peoples Housing. 19 October 2017

ILC-UK Future of Ageing Conference takes place on 29th November 2017. One of the sessions will focus on how housing can innovate for ageing. www.futureofageing.org.uk

David Sinclair
Director, ILC-UK

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