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Covid-19 sees retirement villages shift attention

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The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that retirement villages are shifting attention from frail care centres to rather seeing patients in their own units, and avoiding the potential of cross-infection in a central facility

The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for change in the property industry and even retirement accommodation has had a shakedown.

Before Covid-19, a frail care centre was touted as being the most important offering in modern retirement accommodation, with experts believing that this facility should be the first step of development, followed by the housing units around it.

However, this trend – which was still relatively new – appears to be shifting in favour of home-based care. Gus van der Spek, chief executive of Aview Properties, developers of Wytham Estate in Kenilworth, Cape Town, says during periods of high infection rates, ranging from the seasonal flu to more serious infections like Covid, people prefer to avoid having contact in a central facility and have services delivered to their unit.

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“Our home-based care model, coupled with a simple but high-quality ‘take away’ menu, will mean that staying home a few days to rest up will be easily achievable. I also think that having access to a centralised staff service will help as people can access a cleaner or laundry service as and when needed.”

Centralised care facilities “were never going to work during a pandemic”. “While we still believe that there is room for a specialised medical facility – or ‘frail care’, as has been the focus of previous estates, the focus for most care nowadays will be home-based. Instead of going to frail care, frail care now comes to you.

“Of course, specialised medical care and memory care will still require facilities set up for this but, for the most part, we can deal with care services in the comfort of people’s home.”

Van der Spek says the Manor Group – which owns and manages Wytham Estate – is consulting with Australian senior living experts to develop the “hub-and-spoke” model which involves a specialised frail care and memory care facility in the neighbourhood to cater for special requirements.

Standalone estates of the future will then be developed on separate sites around this. “In a suburban context, like in Cape Town where land is scarce, this model works very well, fulfilling a social requirement for these kinds of facilities.”

Echoing this, Phil Barker, managing director of Renishaw Property Developments in KwaZulu-Natal, believes the home-based care model is the future of health care in retirement villages. “Current retirees are demanding this and successful developments will undoubtedly deliver.”

This model means units will be:

  • Wheel chair-friendly.
  • Designed to facilitate ageing in the home rather than having residents being consigned to a “frail care facility”.
  • Managed by professional health care organisations and staffed by qualified nursing and supervised care-giving personnel.

Apart from physical changes, retirement developments have also had to restructure their offerings. During the first and second waves of the pandemic, and currently, Barker says existing developments have had to creatively mould their management style and practices to cater for a relatively high-risk population.

“Being creative in encouraging the residents to participate in organised and individual activities is one such change. Of course, these activities are always governed by strict Covid19 heath protocols, in order to lessen risk.”

Another change is an even brighter spotlight on guiding and assisting residents towards maintaining their mental wellbeing by focusing on attitude, physical fitness, participation and interaction with peers.

Using Renishaw Hills in KZN as an example, Barker says great attention is placed on fitness, friendship, and freedom – concepts that he believes would be the focus of all successful mature lifestyle villages as they provide the “amenities, services and activities to facilitate and foster participation”.

Residents at Renishaw Hills have “embraced” the necessary changes to their lifestyle and have “thrived” during the lockdown.

He says there has been a noticeable emphasis on:

• Personal fitness, both physical and mental. •Friendship, by making time to interact with other like-minded people and loved ones, either through physical (socially distanced) contact or via newly embraced technologies.

• Freedom, through greater awareness of one’s advantaged lifestyle with its safe living spaces, gardens, natural surroundings, wide-open areas and the opportunities that come with it.

Barry Kaganson, chief executive of Auria Senior Living, agrees that one year on from the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, more focus is being placed on health and wellness. This means villages are improving outdoor recreation spaces and making exercise facilities available.

“We have a variety of exercise classes and programmes to suit our residents’ needs and interests. There has also been an increased focus on the importance of the provision of health and wellness screenings. “In our communities, we provide a range of wellness programmes over and above exercise, to ensure any changes that could be cause for concern are identified early and addressed.”

In addition, the pandemic has seen increased isolation and so there has been a heightened awareness of the importance of mental health. Kaganson says intellectual stimulation is just as important as physical fitness and so the group has given great consideration to providing a range of stimulating activities for its residents.

These range from hobbies and crafts to discussion groups, talks, movies, documentaries and social and cultural events.

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