In the first of a three-part series, Eimear O’Hagan investigates the new breed of age-exclusive developments that are giving retirees an exciting alternative to the traditional nursing home.

"One of my greatest worries was that I'd become lonely"

future of care arthur hunt
Arthur Hunt with his daughter Jenny

When my wife heather died in May last year, aged 81, one of my greatest worries about continuing to live in our three-bedroom bungalow, was that I’d become lonely,” says 82-year-old Arthur Hunt, a retired chartered engineer. “Also, having cared for my wife for three years before her death, because she was unwell, I didn’t want my daughter Jenny—who’s married with a busy job—to have to care for me if my own health declined.”

For previous generations of retirees, it was often seen as inevitable that a point would come in their life where independence became a thing of the past. They submitted to their fate, selling their cherished family home to pay nursing-home fees, or allowing strangers into their house to provide practical help without companionship. Indeed, “care for the elderly” evokes images of straight-backed armchairs in gloomy nursing homes, or a frail pensioner stuck indoors, with just fleeting visits from a carer to relieve their isolation.

These days, however, the UK is seeing a shift away from traditional care options towards “assisted living”, with “age-exclusive” residential developments springing up across the country. These offer 24/7 support while preserving independence and control of one’s affairs.

 

 

" I didn’t want my daughter Jenny to have to care for me if my own health declined”

 

 

Around one-third of the British property market is owned by the over-60s, and as a society more of us are living longer than ever before—with the number of over-75s predicted to increase by around 95 per cent in the next 25 years. For many, with age will come a reluctance or an inability to continue living in a large family home, and downsizing will become essential or appealing.

“A few months before she passed away, Heather had encouraged me to consider moving when she was gone,” continues Arthur. “She felt it would be too much for me to look after the house and garden on my own. Knowing I had her blessing, I began looking into what was available for someone like me—who was in good health and didn’t need nursing care, but who wanted companionship and the comfort of knowing help was nearby if I wanted it.”

With interest rates so low, Arthur didn’t want the proceeds from his house sale doing nothing in a bank account. Instead, he wanted to invest in another property as an investment for his daughter. It was then he came across an assisted living development in Soulihull, west Midlands.

“I’d never heard of these before, so I was intrigued. It ticked all the boxes, plus I could continue to own my own home.”

Arthur duly moved into the development last September, after buying a two-bedroom apartment.

 

So what exactly is assisted living?

assisted living
Liberty House in Raynes Park, London, offers assisted living with a roof terrace

Put simply, it’s a property you own, situated within a purpose-built, secure community, with social outlets and support available when or if you need it—a choice beyond the traditional care home.

Apartments have alarms linking residents to full-time staff in case of an emergency such as a fall, and there are on-site restaurants, gyms, cinemas and allotments. Depending on the development, extra support—ranging from carers and trained nurses to cleaners and handymen—can also be arranged.

Lorena Brown is the marketing and sales director of Pegasus Life, a retirement housing company that specialises in bespoke village-style developments for the over-60s.

assisted living
Assisted-living residents take part in a painting workshop

With two sites now fully occupied, in Bude, Cornwall and Woodbridge, Suffolk, and over 30 more in the pipeline (such is the demand), she says they’ve identified a previously neglected type of retiree.

“The traditional care sector hasn’t been doing enough to meet the expectations of this discerning older generation. Retirement is now seen as a ‘next chapter’, and a time to be enjoyed,” says Lorena.

“A consequence of that changing attitude is that expectations are higher, people are more aspirational and they want where they live, and how they live, to be of a high calibre. 

“Needing some support, or wanting to downsize, doesn’t mean they’re prepared to sign away their liberty or compromise their usual standards,” continues Lorena. “This generation recognises the value of ‘future-proofing’, so while they may not need any practical support at the moment, they know that time may come and they want to be living in an environment where they can easily access it.”

Read part two in the October edition of Reader's Digest

Read the full feature in the September issue of Reader's Digest

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