Ageing in vertical place

By Janette Corcoran

With the announcement of a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the option of ageing in our vertical villages seems all the more appealing. 

By 2056, Australia’s 65-and-over population is projected to reach  8.7 million – with many expected to “stay put” in their homes rather than enter purpose-built facilities. 

Referred to as ageing in place, this describes a person’s decision to continue to live in their home while they grow older. Pragmatically, it also requires that their lifestyle choice supports their continued wellbeing, meaning that if living at home sees them isolated or experiencing great physical or financial hardship, then this is not ageing in place.  

In terms of our vertical villages, it would seem that we have it “all over” our house-bound counterparts when choosing to age in place.  Our high-rise apartments require less maintenance than the typical house and looking after common property is, by definition, a shared responsibility. And we are usually quite centrally located, meaning we are already close to transport, shops and amenities. 

However, it is well known that our needs change as we age and different services and levels of support are required.   

So, is more required of our vertical villages if we choose to age in place? 

One way of considering this is in terms of four questions - what is needed as regards: 

  • Our own apartment?
  • Specialist support services? 
  • Building facilities? and
  • “Future proofing”?

Regarding modifications to our own apartments, many recommended changes are under our control (if we own our apartment). Included here are features such as accessible switches (e.g. multiple locations and at convenient heights), non-skid flooring, etc. 

In addition to these, technology can enable ageing in place, especially in supporting health and safety. Take the example described by Dr MariLyn J. Rantz of the University of Missouri, where a group of residents volunteered to live with environmentally-embedded sensors in their homes. This included bed sensors (which monitored heart rate, respiratory rate and night time restlessness) and non-wearable motion sensors (to monitor activity in rooms). Care co-ordinators received health alerts and conducted early assessments and interventions to resolve potential health changes. The upshot was that living with embedded sensors greatly increased how long people lived independently in their own homes. 

This then leads onto the second question as to what additional services might be needed (or possible) for vertical villagers. Once again the usual suspects include home-delivered meals (maybe Uber Eats could have a special range?), transport services (with dedicated vehicles) and, in particular, specialist care givers. 

Possibilities here include building-based service agreements with pre-approved care providers, supported by a careful integration into the building’s monitoring systems to provide a reassuring second level checks and balances (i.e. two sets of eyes).   

Moving onto the third question which concerns required building facilities, already apparent is the need for: dedicated pickup and drop-off zones for mobility-challenged residents with (perhaps) communal wheel chairs to provide ad hoc assistance; scooter parking with recharging facilities; and regular access-audits (e.g. Do doors stay open long enough? Are corridors and lifts sufficiently wide? etc).  And enabling all this are the skills of those who manage our vertical villages.  

In the United States there is growing concern about how property management professionals are addressing ageing in place within their profession, and there is debate regarding the need for greater specialisation within the property management field so that the specialised needs of ageing in place residents can best addressed. 

The final question concerns future-proofing and looks to the evolution of the vertical living sector. Current discussions posit a future where our generally generic towers develop distinct identities or “personas”.  

Already, some buildings have well known reputations, but these are mostly due to negatives (e.g. short-stay proliferation). What might eventuate are identities based on how buildings operate – a combination of management style (owners’ corporation committee and building management) and their operating “philosophies”. 

This refers to the thousands of individual decisions taken over time, and which together, shape the nature of the building – and so, too, who is attracted to live there, and for how long. It may well become part of a vertical village’s strategic plan to consider the benefits of providing ageing in place services (e.g. reduced resident turnover) with the costs of providing these additional services.  

Something to consider if we wish to age in “vertical peace”.

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