By Megan Forbes a Solicitor in Irwin Mitchell's Planning Team and Retirement Living Sector
We spend an average of 92% of our weekday lives indoors, so it’s no surprise that the places in which we live, work and socialise directly impact our mental health and wellbeing. Retirement living and care developers and operators are increasingly aware of the severity of mental health amongst the elderly and the need to design communities with the promotion of good mental health at its heart.
Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiatives
Depression is the most common mental health condition in older people, which is linked to feelings of loneliness and isolation. With over 1.5 million older people regularly feeling lonely in the UK, the decision to move into a retirement community is often influenced by the health and wellbeing benefits that it offers.
Research is consistently demonstrating that elderly people living in retirement communities are healthier and happier than their counterparts living in their own homes. A recent report commissioned by the ExtraCare Charitable Trust found that 86.5% of their residents were ‘never or hardly ever lonely’, whilst residents also demonstrated improved memory recall and reduced anxiety.
The health and wellbeing benefits to residents are partly due to the natural social connections that arise from living in a purpose-built community, but are enhanced by the initiatives offered by retirement operators.
Inspired Villages recently launched a wellbeing initiative which included the appointment of a ‘Wellbeing Navigator’ to encourage residents to be more physically active and saw the residents of one community walk more than 7 million steps in just six weeks. Developers frequently place emphasis on the importance of wellbeing initiatives in their communities, such as McCarthy & Stone’s annual ‘Sing Your Heart Out’ fundraising singing event, and Churchill Retirement Living’s policy which encourages residents to move in with their pets.
Developing for Mental Health
Whilst wellbeing initiatives in retirement communities play a huge part in the promotion of mental health and wellbeing of its residents, the physical design of these developments can make an even greater impact. A range of on-site facilities in retirement communities serve as important venues for social interaction and allow residents to access key facilities without relying on assistance, facilitating independence and enhancing the overall quality of life.
Well-managed and safe green space can significantly improve our mood, and gardening is particularly beneficial to those with mental health conditions. Audley Villages frequently incorporates landscaped gardens into their retirement communities and offer gardening opportunities to their residents, allowing them to be involved in maintaining the communal gardens and to be as independent and engaged as they want. Eden Retirement Living’s recently completed Newbury town-centre development includes roof-terrace gardens and communal landscaped gardens across two levels, demonstrating the ability to provide sufficient green space in an urban setting.
Pozzani Architecture believes that the most successful communities are those that challenge society’s relationship with ageing, which is why their development includes an innovative 5,000 square foot hub as a focal point for the local community to encourage intergenerational interactions. The hub is now used almost as much by the college students based next door as the residents themselves, resulting in unlikely social interactions and decreased isolation.
The incorporation of retirement housing into existing communities not only provides opportunities for intergenerational contact, but also allows residents to maintain existing social networks, remain close to family, and access a greater range of services than can be provided within the development itself.
For example, the Painswick Retirement Village is located on the edge of Painswick in the Cotswolds; almost all of the residents are from Painswick or the greater local area. The spa and restaurant are open to local residents and the development has strong links with the local school and local clubs and societies, further enhancing the feeling that the retirement village is part of the existing local community.
Older homeowners are often asset rich and income poor, resulting in the inability to afford to carry out maintenance or modifications as they age. Purpose-built retirement communities allow residents to live in an appropriate and safe environment, decreasing the risk of falls and removing the risk of winter deaths due to poorly heated homes. This in turn reduces the strain on NHS services from dealing with wholly avoidable accidents amongst elderly patients and saves the NHS and social services approximately £3,500 per year per resident.
Whilst there is undeniably an undersupply of appropriate retirement housing, those who move into retirement communities are benefiting from increased mental health and wellbeing, easing the strain on local resources and reducing avoidable social isolation and accidents.
This article first appeared in Care Markets on the 13th March.