If the thought of retiring and moving into old-fashioned aged care or a nursing home is a bleak prospect, you’re not alone.
Architect Matthias Hollwich started looking at the architecture serving older adults when he turned 40 and he didn’t like what he saw, so he’s set about changing that.
“Retirement communities sounded great when they were created, but now when you retire, you may live there for 30 or even 40 years,” Hollwich says. “You play golf and bingo; [you’re] not really part of the general society.”
He highlights an important issue — you need to continue to engage as you get older, but society doesn’t have a structure to support you in doing this. In Australia, there is a voluntary national guideline to allow you to make your home more accessible so that you can live in it longer.
“My suggestion is to make it personal,” Hollwich says. “Too many people wake up on the topic of ageing when they retire, and that’s too late.”
Peter Verwer, chair of Livable Housing Australia, says that in the push for more sustainable homes it is the people who live in them that are often being overlooked. The guidelines are therefore there to champion safer, more comfortable and accessible homes for “everybody, everyday, at all stages of life”.
Many Australians want to grow old in their homes, and the Australian Government has committed almost $1 billion over five years to help people stay at home.
One Brisbane-based architect says that while the guidelines are good, there is no mechanism to encourage developers to cater for the housing needs of those with significant long-term disabilities. She says the housing industry is “highly competitive” and ‘volume building’ housing appears to be the dominant form of new housing markets.
But if you want to remain in your home with family and friends thee are things you can do, and costs vary.
“Things like providing accessible pathways to and from the house; doorways, corridors and living spaces that are located at entry level reduce the need for people to climb stairs; and having toilets, bathrooms and showers that can be used by most people with the option of installing grab-rails if they are required, are practical features a person should consider if they want to remain in their family home,” she says.
Hollwich takes it a step further.
He believes society needs to rethink its idea of family and community, and design spaces accordingly. He says nursing homes should form part of larger residential complexes instead of being standalone developments, which would allow for older adults to interact with the general population and benefit all demographics.