Feels like home: Re-imagining aged care in a post pandemic era.

Ways of designing aged care that feels like home and can better meet people’s needs in a future pandemic was the challenge set to designers, innovators, planners and progressive providers that gathered together to rethink the future of residential aged care as part of the Longevity by Design charrette, hosted by The University of Queensland and DMA Engineers.

In its second year, the charrette brought together thought leaders and professionals across a broad range of industries, including three industry partners: Fresh Hope Care, Southern Cross Care Queensland and St Vincent’s Care Services, to re-imagine how we design aged care in a post-pandemic era.

DMA Engineers Managing Director, Russell Lamb, said the charrette was a great opportunity to get together with diverse group of people in the industry to look at ways we can rethink how we design and plan for our ageing population.

“Over the past 18 months, many Australians have experienced how it feels to be ‘locked-down’ and isolated in a pandemic,” Mr Lamb said.

““For many people in our society these have been unpleasant experiences, yet this can be a daily reality for people who live in aged care, whether there is a pandemic or not.

“The pandemic has highlighted some of the issues around isolation and loneliness in care and the vulnerability of the industry to events like the COVID 19 pandemic.”

Mr Lamb said we, as an industry, need to find ways to keep aged care facilities and retirement villages open to the broader community much more than what we did during the pandemic.

“We can’t allow these communities to become totally isolated from the rest of society again,” he said.

“There is opportunity to integrate aged care more with the rest of the community and by doing so, create more opportunities for people to live a fuller life, connected with their friends and families.

“Allowing people to feel at home in an aged care facility is a very tough nut to crack. We all come from different and diverse backgrounds where we all want to maintain our identity and the more we can transfer that identity to our new community, the easier that transition will be.”

More than 80 people participated in the 2021 charrette, which was initiated and designed for the second year by DMA Engineers, in partnership with The University of Queensland.

The University of Queensland’s Director of the Healthy Ageing Initiative, Professor Laurie Buys, said the Longevity by Design charrette is important because the future is ours.

“Creating change and having impact over time can’t be done by any one organisation or an individual, so we have to bring together really interesting partnerships and collaborations that can bring about that change,” Professor Buys said.

When asked what she wanted to see from the charrette, Professor Buys said she wanted to see a future where she had a lot of really good choices.

“This year was an opportunity to come together and work with people from different disciplines, but most importantly with industry who are thinking differently, to challenge the way we see, design, and create change,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for aged care design is how we think. There are many fundamental structures that need to be changed, but really what’s holding us back is our imagination and our willingness to challenge the assumptions and create a different future.”

Teams worked on one of three real-world residential aged care facilities provided by our three industry partners: Fresh Hope Care, Southern Cross Care Queensland, and St Vincent’s Care Services, where they were challenged to create visionary, innovative and highly connected designs to re-imagine aged care homes that feel like home in 2031.

Director of Subtropical Cities and facilitator of the Longevity by Design charrette, Dr Rosemary Kennedy, said it’s important for positive models of aged care living to be more visible to the wider community.

“During the design challenge process, it became clear to everyone involved that they were on a journey together,” Dr Kennedy said.

“We all want a positive future for ourselves and our families, rich with connectedness and familiarity, so it’s important to open up new concepts of aged care that people can embrace, particularly at their end stage of life.

“Many of the ideas proposed by the teams shared a common thread of physical and social connectedness and co-located multi-generational living.  They also focused on people’s capability, rather than inability. These themes are all key to promoting purpose and meaning.

“Increased choice in turn promotes economic development and job creation,” she said.

The design challenge participants looked to leading international examples of small house models, rather than large institutions like we see here in Australia, and considered ways to approach design and social needs to really embed home, with purpose and a strong sense of belonging.

“Our teams created liveable neighbourhoods for all ages, with productive market gardens to keep connection to the farm, a training and learning precinct, business opportunities, connected tourism, and more,” Dr Kennedy said.

“The teams visualised spaces designed to enable older people to continue to be creative and productive, integrating cultural creativity, ongoing learning and enabling multi-generational living to keep them connected to friends and family.

“Rather than being set apart from the community, the teams developed concepts of ‘ageless’, five-minute communities where at the home level, support is readily available, and amenities are all within a five-minute walk from your where you live.

“Connectedness and purpose as we age might sound obvious and what we all might want, but the Longevity by Design teams showed us what our future could look like if we keep striving for it.”

Longevity by Design was a joint initiative of The University of Queensland‘s Healthy Ageing Initiative and DMA Engineers, with support from major sponsor Paynters and event partners Fresh Hope Care, Southern Cross Care Queensland and St Vincent’s Care Services.

Videos of the team pitches and more photos from the 2021 event can be found here.

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