I was chatting this week with a director of a large retirement village operator in South Australia. She pointed out that all the residents of the village they built 15 years ago are now about 80 years of age. This is a big village, with over 150 homes, originally designed and built as a lifestyle resort type village.
Not long ago, I was talking to the management of one of the largest villages in the country. He told me that 15 years ago the average age of entry was 72. It is now 79.
I met with the marketing managers of a large manufactured park operator in the west a few weeks ago and they outlined their strategies for bringing home care into their parks that traditionally target people 55 to 65.
Palm Lake Resorts, the most successful manufactured park operator, has just announced its plans to build its fifth aged care facility in Queensland.
What does this mean? Two things.
First, residents of supportive communities live longer and they live longer at home.
Second, older people who foresee health challenges are taking action to downsize later in life, moving into a supportive community.
Why do I call retirement villages and manufactured home parks ‘supportive communities’? Because this is exactly what they are.
These purpose-built homes, roads, community centres and transport are all designed for physically safer ageing. And it works. Less falls and other injuries plus easier living in the dwelling, literally allows people to live longer at home.
The structure of a supportive management (village managers) and emergency call buttons minimise the impact when a health event occurs.
The community aspects of supportive neighbours countering isolation and identifying early indications of health challenges boosts the emotional well-being of residents. (See our other story in this issue about isolation being a major contributor to and earlier death).
Communities to lose vibrancy?
Does this mean that supportive communities will lose their vibrancy, filled with significantly older residents? The answer is not really.
Our research shows that over 50 per cent of people joining villages are couples. One partner is highly likely to have a health challenge and could well succumb to this over the next three to five years. The other partner however is fit and well and likely to live, and live well, for seven to 15 years in the village. This partner will deliver on the vibrancy (when not caring for his or her partner).
Of the 50 per cent who joined villages as a single person, a good proportion are still relatively healthy but are setting themselves up for the last important stage of their lives. They will have a considerable number of active years in front of them.
And the simple fact of joining a supportive community, breaking away from the isolation of a big family home with declining transport options, creating new friendships – all brings vitality back to people. This contributes to a more vibrant village or manufactured park.
Sure, supportive communities will have an older group of residents but they will be content and active. This must be a good thing.