Innovative aged care comes to inner suburbs

THE population may be ageing but to many baby boomers well-heeled, well-travelled and still hungry for life the idea of spending their sunset years playing bingo in a suburban retirement home is anathema.

THE population may be ageing but to many baby boomers well-heeled, well-travelled and still hungry for life the idea of spending their sunset years playing bingo in a suburban retirement home is anathema.

It raises the question: where will they live?

Enter the mid or high-rise, inner-city aged-care home.

Health insurance company Australian Unity is developing a $180 million aged-care centre on Rathdowne Street in Carlton, which it says will change the way that aged-care homes are designed in Australia.

Two things set it apart from the traditional suburban, single-storey model of aged care.

Its location means older residents who live in the inner city won't have relocate to an area far from family and friends when they need extra care. And the six-storey building's ground floor has been designed to welcome the public a cafe, shop, adult day-centre, meeting room and senior's-only gym and hydrotherapy pool will be all be open to locals as well as to residents of the three-building complex.

"We don't want aged care to be some sort of walled ghetto, something shoved away, but a central place where people can go and visit their mum and have a coffee downstairs in the cafe alongside the general population," said Australian Unity's chief executive of retirement living, Derek McMillan.

Tight margins in aged care have encouraged the trend towards developing cheaper suburban land with traditional single-storey aged care but that has made it hard to find facilities in the inner suburbs, Mr McMillan said.

The development is part of the Carlton Housing Redevelopment, the largest public and private housing redevelopment in the state's history.

The mid- or high-rise "campus" style of aged care is becoming more common overseas, especially in the US.

Architect Alex Nock, a councillor with the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of Architects, said inner-city aged care was a growing market and high-rise aged care in the CBD within reach of the Southbank arts precinct and with good public transport links was the next logical step.

Deakin University Professor Bob Cummins undertakes a yearly "wellbeing" survey of 2000 older people funded by Australian Unity. He says that many people lose their sense of purpose as they age. This was particularly noticeable when they moved into an environment where everything was done for them.

"That really is not a good recipe for keeping your brain active and also giving you an interest in life," Professor Cummins said.

By 2036 it is estimated that there will be 910,000 more Victorians aged 65 and over than there were in 2006.

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