The current options for retirement are rather uninspiring—stay at home or go to an aged care facility. Pioneering groups of architects, the elderly and social scientists are looking at creative alternatives, however. Life Matters investigates.
According to Luscombe, only about five per cent of the 3.5 million Australians aged over 65 live in retirement homes, and these are less than ideal. In a recent report assessing the future of aged care living, Luscombe wrote that these facilities often isolate people from their loved ones.
‘They don’t tend to be places we want to be in,’ he says.
Many of us seniors have big homes that could be shared to make a little supportive community.
Michael Hollingworth, who is now 72, saw his parents enter an aged care facility and agrees. ‘They were well looked after,’ he says. ‘But it’s a pretty depressing sort of place.’
Hollingworth himself has opted for a different arrangement and lives in a share house with his wife and two other couples. Meanwhile, Luscombe has travelled through Europe looking at alternative aged care living solutions.
Wohnfabrik Solinsieme, St Gallen, Switzerland
Set up by four aging friends, Wohnfabrik Solinsieme is a converted fabric factory. ‘They created their own space,’ says Luscombe. ‘They had no experience, they just wanted to do it.’
To cover costs, the team advertised for other like-minded individuals who might want to share a space to grow old in. The community now numbers 17 people.
The factory has individual apartments that vary slightly depending on their size. Some have a separate bathroom, while others share. There’s also a large communal room with a kitchen and a community garden. Most importantly, Luscombe says the residents have always had ‘complete control’ about what their new home would be like.
Ruggachern, Zurich, Switzerland
Turning the idea of the ‘aged care facility’ on its head, Ruggachern is a ‘multigenerational facility’ that intentionally mixes people in different life stages. Young families live alongside singles, couples and the elderly. Only people who want, and commit, to be part of the Ruggachern are chosen to live in the facility.
‘It created a robust community where everybody looked after each other,’ says Luscombe. It was also practical. Retirees use the shared laundry facilities during the day, while workers launder in the evening.
Michael Hollingworth and his partner sold their Sydney property several years ago and bought four acres three hours away—but they didn’t do it alone. The Hollingworths live with two other couples on the land. They affectionately call themselves ‘The Shedders’. ‘We shared our resources to make this happen,’ he says.
The Shedders had known each other for 30 years, but to see whether they could survive in a share house, they lived together in a large house in Sydney for a few years. ‘We tested it pretty thoroughly,’ he says. The gamble paid off. ‘It’s the best time of our lives.’
Hollingworth still has some concerns about the future, however. So far The Shedders are independent and healthy. ‘When the wheels start to fall off we’ve got figure out how to deal with that,’ he says.
Life Matters listeners share their views
‘I couldn’t think of anything worse [than living in a share house]. I’m an introvert, I’m energised by solitude.’
– Rosyln, via phone
‘Aged care facilities continue to fail in providing life with dignity for their inmates. In the end, it comes down to finding ways to replace the traditional family unit, where one generation looks after the others, and so far, no go.’
– Will, via online comment
‘Real security is not the money you have in the bank, but the number of people you are connected to in your neighbourhood.’
– Stina Kerans, via online comment
‘Our phobia of higher density living has a very high price tag for young and old.’
– RJB, via online comment
‘Many of us seniors have big homes that could be shared to make a little supportive community.’
– Val, via Facebook
‘We do not want the younger generation to have to make decisions for us or move us when it is too late.’
– Anne, via online comment
‘Overwhelmingly, people want to stay in their own home as they age,’ says Guy Luscombe, an architect specialising in design for the aged. However, the family home is often inappropriate—it might be too big for one or two people or have access issues such as narrow stairs.