November 25, 2011

NEW ZEALAND: They're excited about moving into a retirement village

AUCKLAND, New Zealand / The Aucklander / Aging / November 25, 2011

Where will Auckland's older people live?

By Rowena Orejana

Mark and Noelene Webber are excited about moving into a retirement village in Manukau.

Mark is 71 and Noelene is 67 and the couple has decided that it's best to move somewhere where there is continuous care, even though they don't need it right now.

Three weeks ago they sold their house in Dannemora and moved temporarily to an apartment until their new retirement villa - still under construction - is ready.

Mark and Noelene Webber in front of their villa that is being built at a retirement village in Flat Bush. Kellie Blizard

"We wanted to live in the same area as our old home because we've joined clubs and things and we wanted to carry on with that life while living our new life," says Mrs Webber. "We also decided on living in a retirement village at our stage of life because we thought it's a good opportunity while we were still both fit and healthy."

"We can both adjust to living in a new community," says Mr Webber, "which is preferable to one of us coming here on our own."

Over the next few decades there will be plenty more couples like them. Auckland's elderly population is projected to grow dramatically, with Statistics New Zealand estimating there will be more than 320,000 people aged 65-plus by the year 2031.

Of these, more than 40,000 will be 85-plus. Compare that to just five years ago when the number of people aged 65-plus was 133,800 and you get some idea of the demand that will arise for rest homes and retirement villages, as well as in-home care services.

There is no specific mention of where the elderly should live in the Draft Auckland Plan, which looks ahead to 2040, despite the already growing demand for retirement living. It does acknowledge more people will rent rather than own their homes in the next three decades, and that older people will become vulnerable because of their reliance on a rental market, but doesn't mention land space for retirement villages.

"The elderly are the middle-class New Zealand we tend to forget," says Norah Barlow, president of the Retirement Villages Association (RVA). "We just get fixated on the youth. It's very important to worry about the youth and we all should. But, equally, when people have lived a full life, we should also worry about them."

By 2031, the average life expectancy for a man will be 82.1 years, while women will stick around for 85.3 years (currently 78 and 82.2).

The Retirement Villages Association made a submission to Auckland Council on its draft plan and that will be heard on December 8. It exhorts the council to clearly identify the needs of the elderly in its plans.

"With the doubling of the numbers of elderly due to longer life spans, they have to," says Mrs Barlow.

She says if the council is working towards making Auckland a compact city by 2040, it also needs to work out how it can make land accessible in desirable locations for retirement villages or rest homes.

Not all old people want or choose to live in villages or rest homes, of course. The council says it may consider using council-owned land in collaboration with private partners for its own pensioner housing. It may look at smaller,modern housing better suited to older people's needs, so they do not have to move from their current familiar neighbourhood or, alternatively, create larger homes for people to live with extended families.

"People almost always move to retirement homes for some kind of issue - like asignificant neighbourhood change or because of their health," says Mrs Barlow. "They want to move within five to 10km of where they used to live. That's logical. Your family, your friends, your community are all around that area."

She believes one way around increasing the number of properties available is for retirement village developers to build up rather than spread out. "Not 40 storeys but possibly four to five storeys up," she says. She believes this could also be a solution for aged care homes.

Mrs Barlow does have a vested interest in raising the issue. She is the CEO of the Summerset Group, one of the major operators of retirement villages.

However she says the RVA submission came about because with all the talk of growing Auckland in the draft plan, there is virtually nomention of where the growing numbers of elderly would live.

"People want to stay within the ambit of their community. You want to be where your friends can visit. Aged care requires less land but it still requires land."

Health benefits

The greying of the population will also place further demands on the healthcare system. Accident, treatment and rehabilitation wards in Auckland hospitals are already kept busy with elderly patients.

"There are long-stay needs by the elderly," Mrs Barlow says. "So you see a bottleneck starting to happen inside healthcare. And that's a peculiarity, really, of Auckland," she says, because of the population growth.

She suggests looking at funding aged-care providers differently as they already provide long-term stays for the elderly. At present, aged-care providers are not funded to rehabilitate.

"We have to figure out how to cleverly fund aged care to enable the elderly to move out of hospitals, so Auckland hospitals can stay as they are but work with aged-care providers to make it spread out," she says.

She observes most people today do not live in multi-generational families. "But that doesn't mean children don't care or love their parents. They want to see their parents well looked after."

She says the issues faced by the elderly should be given importance. "We've got to make sure the Auckland spatial plan caters for our older people."

Studies have shown there are health benefits - mental and physical - for older people living in retirement villages if they have to. They feel more secure in the environment, particularly if they have left a neighbourhood where they felt they didn't know people anymore.

Last month, Australian researcher Dimity Crisp presented a study, Relocation to a retirement village: Investigating the impact on health, wellbeing and social connection.

"Early results suggest that while the [initial] move is described as stressful by residents, many report benefits which include an increased sense of security and reduced home maintenance and gardening responsibilities," Ms Crisp said.

"There also appear to be significant increases in social contact and social support networks comprising of neighbours. And residents report feeling significantly less lonely following the move."

That was certainly a motivation for the Webbers.

"The neighbourhood had changed. There are more people who don't communicate with their neighbours. There's a couple across the road who live with teenage children. There was some communication with our next-door neighbour but Lorraine moved out this year. We suddenly found that we were lonely in that street," says Mr Webber.

Mrs Webber adds: "We knew we would do this eventually but started thinking about it because I guess because there was nothing going on in the neighbourhood.

"If you are living in a community of people who work and you are a retired couple, you never get to see anybody."

- In greater Auckland there are 79 retirement villages and rest homes.
- In the 61 retirement villages there are 6610 units, 5835 of which are owned under the "licence to occupy (LTO)" model, meaning they pay a residential care provider a lump sum for the right to occupy a specific unit or apartment, and additional monthly payments for communal expenses and services.
- 7500 people live in retirement villages
- 5.5 per cent of people aged 65 or more live in retirement villages
- 10 per cent of people aged 75 or more live in retirement villages

Copyright 2011, APN Holdings NZ Limited
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