We might think that by offering to do Mum’s shopping or by bringing Dad a cooked meal we’re performing a loving gesture. But for many people in the later stages of life, what we perceive as a mere helpful act can actually feel quite disempowering.
This is according to research being undertaken by Guild Living, a developer of later-life communities in the centre of towns and cities. “We’re finding that older people don’t like to feel like they are a burden. The notion that ‘I have been able to look after myself my whole life, and now I need to be cared for’ is actually quite disconcerting,” explains Eugene Marchese, Guild Living Founder and Director of Innovation & Design.
At Legal & General we believe ageing is something to be celebrated, and that entering what Guild Living names this “third stage of life” should be done so with excitement. That’s why we’ve partnered with Guild Living to build infrastructure and thriving communities that enable a fulfilling third stage of life. In other words, we’re redefining what ageing really means. “We want to shift the narrative – to really celebrate older people, rather than diminish them,” says Marchese.
But first we need to understand how we’ve got to where we are today. The UK has adopted a subconscious ageist approach, where as a society we unknowingly discriminate against the elderly. “When we start to intervene in ways that people don’t want us to, we start to reduce their self-worth. We call it the ‘How many sugars does he take?’ syndrome. We think they’re not capable, so we take the capability away from them,” explains Marchese.
When we start to intervene in ways that people don’t want us to, we start to reduce their self-worth. We call it the ‘How many sugars does he take?’ syndrome.
What’s more, the housing choices made available do little to support independent living as people move into this third stage of life. Moving out of a family home is a big, emotional decision – but there is little alternative. This means people tend to stay in homes they have outgrown, leading to isolation and loneliness – something experienced by one million older people in the UK. “Loneliness is the killer,” says Marchese. “Loneliness brings on depression; if you’re depressed, you don’t eat, you don’t move, you don’t sleep; you die. And that cycle, tragically, occurs very quickly. We want to stop that pandemic.”
That’s why Guild Living is placing older people at the heart of thriving towns and cities, with projects in development in Bath, Epsom, Uxbridge and Walton-on-Thames. “What the sector needs is choice, so we want to offer an alternative that’s a real alternative,” says Marchese. By moving to urban-centric communities, older people can surround themselves with like-minded people and stimulating activities, in a home that’s more age-appropriate. “I asked one lady who moved into a third-stage community in Sydney what the best thing about the move had been. With a huge smile on her face, she said: ‘My children have to make an appointment to come and see me’. She was so busy and was having a great time,” recalls Marchese. “She was 86.”
The average age someone moves into a later-life community is between 75 and 80, at a time when health issues are likely to start impacting their life. But by moving into an urban-centric community earlier – say, closer to 70, an age where a third of us already live alone – individuals can enjoy an independent third stage of life that meets their needs, all the while knowing that they’re already in a community that can cater to their needs as they change. This is what Guild Living calls “care security”. And it works – people living in these types of communities are 80 per cent less likely to enter hospital. “We offer that full spectrum of third age. You can come and join us when you’re fully active and enjoy swimming and going to the pub, but you know that if your wife has arthritis and it’s not getting any better, in two years’ time there’ll be assistance as she requires it. That offers a great level of comfort and is a compelling reason to leave a house that you’ve outgrown.”
Alongside the physical infrastructure, Guild Living is also building a bespoke technology platform to support these communities and is well into its second phase of research, all of which will be made available to the later-life housing sector to encourage this much-needed change. “When Elon Musk made his battery technology open source, it gave everyone that head start they needed. That’s what we’re hoping to be: a leader in the sector,” says Marchese.
“The great thing about Legal & General is that they understand that there is a deeper-rooted societal issue, and unless we really invest in the research and the understanding, we can’t make the necessary changes,” concludes Marchese. “And this isn’t incremental change. It’s not about a better restaurant or better gardens. It’s about a 180-degree shift in the way older people will spend this third part of their life.”