What will the new normal be for retirement villages post-Covid-19?
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The Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa and the lockdown that followed has had a detrimental effect on the country’s retirees, changing their ways of life and the operational processes of the retirement villages they live in.
Considering the risks associated with contracting the virus – and other future viruses – for the elderly, these shifts will no doubt have to become the new normal in retirement accommodation and be factored into new village designs.
During the height of the pandemic, says Kevin Swart of Cenprop Real Estate, developers of Lazuli Coastal Retirement Estate on the KZN North Coast, the number of people attending care centres across the province “dwindled markedly” as retirees moved into home-based care or temporary assisted living.
This is a movement that he believes will become “more of the norm”.
“People are more comfortable with being treated in their own spaces where that is possible.”
Access to open spaces was also appreciated during the pandemic with many retirement village residents welcoming such offerings during a time when they could not leave the estate except to purchase basic necessities.
This means common areas and green spaces within estates would become “key features of differentiation”, he says, adding: “Freestanding units with their own gardens will also be a key point for new purchasers. People who found themselves in apartments with limited ability to move around clearly felt the effects of the pandemic more seriously.”
Phil Barker, managing director of Renishaw Property Developments, developers of Renishaw Hills on the KZN South Coast, says the pandemic and lockdown is a “difficult time” for all retirement villages, with many advising that a significant number of residents suffered from anxiety and depression.
“We communicated with residents regularly and monitored those who were suffering the most stress through not being able to have family visits.
“We closed all our communal facilities but, fortunately, our units have relatively large gardens and many of them are surrounded by open green areas, across which residents could maintain social contact.”
Echoing Swart’s observation about home-based care, he says: “Our model of home-based nursing care is a winner in this type of situation, rather than the traditional frail-care model.”
In fact, the provision of health-care facilities is the biggest change being seen and needs to be made – in the design of retirement villages.
“The traditional frail-care model has become prohibitively expensive and requires increasing financial support, either from the resident population or from an outside benefactor, to remain financially viable. Modern villages are following the worldwide trend towards professionally managed home-based care.”
This model, Barker says, will include a clinic staffed by professional nursing staff and a small “emergency” frail-care facility, “but the main care is performed by registered care givers in the comfort of one’s own home, supervised by the professional nursing staff”.
Rob Jones, retirement-living consultant to The Somerset Lifestyle and Retirement Village in the Western Cape, agrees: “Retirement villages will retain many of the same elements that they have had until today, however, those services will need to be offered in a very different way than before. Gone are the days of regimented, institutional frail-care units, run in a hospital-like fashion.”
Another change being seen is the disappearance of the “onerous compulsory levies” that require residents to take all main meals in the communal dining room. A number of new services are also arising.
“The reason for these changes relates to the modern crop of retirees – many of whom are still very active and who often do not self-identify as ‘old’, even though the corporate world no longer thinks it needs them.”
To cater for these evolutions and ensure that elderly residents still receive the care they need, Barry Kaganson, chief executive of Auria Senior Living, says the “big trend” both here and overseas is to offer various wellness features within senior living facilities. These include fitness programmes; healthy eating plans and options; planned social activities; lifelong-learning courses; volunteer opportunities and wellness education workshops.
“In addition, from a design perspective, senior living communities are now attractive, modern and appealing places to live, underpinned by the requisite operational and hospitality services.
“Availability of care and support is critical as people live longer, and aspects such as dementia care need to be addressed...People also want choice as to how their care and support is delivered and senior living operators must cater for this,” he says.