Jane Barker discusses the role that appropriate housing can play in maintaining health and wellbeing among the older generation.
Studies have shown that the older generation feel much younger than their age, which is affecting how they aim to spend their retirement. With a genuine desire to keep productive and healthy for longer, the over 65s are seeking more active lives in their later years. Many also recognise that increasing mental and physical activity has another major benefit – it combats loneliness, dependence and boredom.
Latest ONS figures reveal that more than 50% of people over 75 live alone. And according to Age UK, nearly half of the over 65s say that their TV or pets are their main form of company. Loneliness at this scale presents complex challenges and as stated by the Campaign to End Loneliness – it ‘is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience’.
Research has shown that loneliness can have a negative effect on health, increasing the risk of falls, anxiety and depression, and potentially slowing recovery from disease, which puts increasing pressure on the NHS and social care providers. A recent survey by cross-party think tank Demos for example, found that loneliness costs the NHS/social services around £714 million per year.
Providing more appropriate housing for the older generation can play a vital role in addressing this issue and improving the lives of older people. In the past, this has focused on helping people to stay in their own homes for longer through the use of aids, adaptations and new technology. Although this is important for those that want to retain their independence and protect their health, these measures don’t help those who feel isolated and alone. To tackle this, we need to rethink housing provision for older people, including developing more specialist retirement environments.
As highlighted by the Demos research, this includes sheltered housing which it states could ‘tackle the primary drivers of health and care costs among older people’, saving the NHS around £486m per year. But the older generation needs other housing options too, including more inclusive communities such as retirement villages.
Unlike a traditional care home, the village model offers self-contained high-quality homes combined with a broad range of on-site facilities to help the over 55s make the most of their later years with discreet care available should they need it now – or in the future. Bistros, brasseries and spas are just some of the amenities which feature in retirement villages, helping to bring people together and create a sense of community.
Many also offer a range of health and wellbeing initiatives designed specifically to help combat loneliness and help residents stay active. At Liberty Retirement Living, these include exercise trails throughout our villages, private gardens, allotments, outdoor events and a skills-sharing programme enabling people to explore new hobbies and activities. Furthermore, healthy eating is encouraged through a Slate and Grain brasserie, a new and wholesome catering brand, which has been developed especially for our retirement villages.
This approach combines good health, social opportunities and independence in a modern environment, providing older people with a lifestyle that more effectively meets their needs. Tailored care is also available where required.
As the UK’s population continues to get older, providing these facilities has never been more important. We need to recognise that those approaching their later years have a broad and varied range of needs as well as different aspirations. Retirement housing should be developed to match, providing the older generation with more housing choice as well as opportunities that could significantly improve health and wellbeing and ensure they can live more fulfilling and active lives for longer.
- Jane Barker is managing director of Liberty Retirement Living, whose first retirement village will be built in Chapelton, Aberdeenshire