Design tips to support ageing in place

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Aged care providers looking to expand into retirement living accommodation need to consider options that enable people to remain integrated with society, according to industry experts.

Retirees are moving away from resort-style retirement living and opting instead for central, well-serviced accommodation that allows for care to come to them, Diane Jones of PTW Architects has told Inside Ageing.

St Basils' "The Grove" in Randwick
St Basils’ “The Grove” in Randwick

“When retirees are downsizing these days many are choosing apartments where they intend to live out the rest of their days,” Ms Jones said.

“Key requirements are generally that it must be a good apartment building, integrated into town with services very close by and spaces where people interact,” she said.

There is a noticeable trend of retirees moving into new apartment buildings located within shopping centres and it’s because people want that close proximity to service and transport.

“I’ve spoken with a lot with people about the issue of ageing in place and most agree the ideal situation today is having specific apartments designed for people to age scattered through an ordinary apartment block,” Ms Jones said.

“Most people don’t want to feel isolated from the mainstream community, or surrounded only by other retirees. This is a key difference with the baby boomer generation and it will impact the whole industry.”

Aged care providers that are looking to renovate or expand their services to reach people before they necessarily require aged care services should consider how the property will integrate with the wider community as a key design principle.

“Ideally the property will have spaces that go between public and private, which are considered on two axes – social and ability. People who are well and able-bodied have wide concentric circles of engagement with life outside their bedroom that extend deeply into the neighbourhood. As people slow down, they may not be able to move as far but still want to remain engaged with the outside world.

“When people have reached the point where they cannot move outside of their apartment often they are typically confined to their bedroom or living room. But it is still important to give people a sense of engagement with the wider world, so windows overlooking the street or a courtyard are very important,” she said.

“In Europe they sometimes put convex mirrors in people’s homes so they can see along the street.”

Opportunities for outings such as shops and cafes that are onsite are also something people are now seeking in their retirement living accommodation.

“It is critical to have these things, especially in properties that are not centrally located in a town,” Ms Jones said.

“If you’re going to have an onsite café, don’t put it in the back corner away from the street or thoroughfare and make sure it’s big enough for people to actually want to spend time there. For some, it might be the only time they leave their apartment all week so do what you can to make it a pleasurable experience for them.”

Multiple lifts are also important, as is the lobby space with pleasant space for waiting for people who may not be able to move far beyond the lift.

“Really, retirement living accommodation shouldn’t look or feel any different to what we’d all like for ourselves for contemporary living. Things like an onsite gym and pool are what people want,” she said.

Bathrooms should be designed so they can be adapted for support when the time comes that people need it, such as having electric outlets for the toilet. In the kitchen, consideration should be given to different cooking styles.

Ms Jones says Australian developers and providers can learn a lot from design practices overseas, in particular in Scandinavia where many facilities for older people are open to the public to use the restaurants and bars so there is vibrancy about them.

PTW designed St Basils’ latest seniors’ living and residential aged care in the eastern Sydney suburb of Randwick, which is considered a model for retirement living and ageing in place within a lively streetscape, close to shops, schools, university and health institutions.

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