A note on terminology : retirement villages is a term used for villages that cater to a demographic with typical average age above 70. A strong element of care is implicit. Senior villages refer to the independent living end of the senior spectrum, with average age typically in the low sixties.
However, we also recognise that in the US, the term retirement might be perceived as more positive than senior.
Whatever your preference, independent senior living is a concept that has existed for decades in countries such as the USA, Australia and South Africa, where they operate in areas known as ‘sun belts’. In Europe, the community-based residential model for active seniors is still very rare. Care homes, or urban residences, exist. But they are often very expensive, and the better ones have waiting lists. Active or independent living communities are less common in Europe. In Southern Europe, where there is a need for both local and expatriate residents, solutions are woefully absent.
It is estimated that 5% (as high as 12% in some regions) of older Americans live in purpose built retirement communities, as do 3% percent of older Australians. Lacking the easily available building space of those countries, any Northern European equivalents tend to be smaller in scale. And it does not offer the climate advantages of locations further south.
International retirement migration is a large and growing trend. Between 10% and one third1 of people in the United Kingdom, and a significant portion of the EU’s almost 100 million seniors, would like to retire abroad. The percentage is higher in the colder, northern countries of the world.
A senior village typically allows residents to do as much or as little as they choose and to receive whatever level of care they wish to, but typically not terminal or intensive care. Residents have their own ‘front door’, and can cook for themselves or use a village restaurant.
Fitness, library, entertainment and social facilities are often provided. Care services generally offer nurses on call, so there is not only someone there to ‘keep an eye’ on the residents, and often care – though not, of course, major medical procedures – can be provided in the home. Structural maintenance and decoration is the responsibility of the village owner and residents are thus relieved of this burden. The growth in popularity of retirement villages stems, fairly obviously, from our increasingly ageing population and the growing assets its holds, but also from the growing tendency for older people to place a positive emphasis on the need for security, socialising opportunities and convenience.
The need to release equity through a downsizing move may also impel a greater shift towards specialised retirement housing. Retirement villages also create employment (each retirement village typically provides between 30 and 50 staff jobs), and senior villages can support the viability of local services. Their regeneration potential is rather overlooked in the UK, but well recognised in the US, where they are seen as contributing to the reversal of long-term economic decline and adding to an area’s cultural life.
Almost without exception, the few senior living communities which exist operate a real estate sales model. Now, while there isn’t anything wrong with owning your own place in the sun, surely it does not make sense for everyone? To date, seniors retiring abroad have been limited for choice.
People typically leave a move to a care home as late as possible – with the average age of such a move being 75. This late move from conventional to retirement homes could relate to the fact that such homes can at present be seen as a necessarily evil of ageing rather than as desirable places in which to live in their own right. But senior villages, with their high quality construction, services and facilities, attract those in slightly younger age groups, and a target audience of between 55-75 is probably appropriate.
1Daily Mail 2006; Rightmove Overseas survey 2013