Living at home, when you need to be cared for by others, is not always possible and this makes it necessary to have accommodation with 24-hour care for people in a situation of dependency. Residential homes in Spain have been improving their facilities, their range of services, but there is still some way to go to be able to offer truly personalised care and to be able to do so in more appropriate, more sustainable and efficient facilities, which allow for a service that is fully adapted to the needs of the elderly. The effort must be to ensure that the person – to the extent of their abilities – is in control of their life, and that care, even in cases of severe cognitive impairment, is organised in a way that respects their biography and preferences. This model of care is the future, because it is what the elderly want, what we all want for our relatives or what we would want for ourselves, as the case may be.
In addition, we must rethink the care model we want and this forces us to think about new spaces for this. And industrialised construction has a lot to contribute in this sector.
We must be able to respond to all situations for “non-dependent” people in new types of serviced flats, with the senior living or senior housing format for adults over 65 or 70 years of age who have great vital energy and a desire to do many things, but we must also continue to seek solutions for dependent people in an age bracket already over 80 years of age with much greater care needs. We are obliged to advance in new solutions for the demographic challenge ahead of us and we are seeing an upturn of interest in both typologies.
What would this “ideal centre” for elderly care look like?
It is essential to look to other countries that long ago opted for other care alternatives. This is the case in Northern Europe, Holland, England, France, Germany and Canada, among others, where they opt for centres integrated into the environment, not overcrowded, some even with a smaller offer of places, or with living units similar to the usual home where each person has their own private space, even bringing their own furniture and belongings, favouring the continuation of the desired habits and way of life.
Another important feature is that the staff is more versatile and highly trained. Thus, the concept of FREEDOM is also fundamental, and of freedom in decisions and preferences about their care: when they want to get up, go to bed or shave, as if they were at home; free visits for relatives, etcetera.
When considering leaving home, one has to look for the centre that best suits one’s needs and preferences. It is important to get to know the different residences, visit them to see what services they offer, check how people live there and, with regard to the facilities, whether they suit their way of life, their needs and whether they are efficient facilities that respect the environment, are sustainable, reduce energy consumption and the carbon footprint and can encourage and respect the life history of residents, increase their participation, free visits for relatives, etcetera. It is precisely industrialised construction that brings much added value to this type of property, from the reduction of waste in the construction part, to the reduction of construction times by around a third, which allows the operator to anticipate its opening and reduce its financing costs. Also important is the reduction in maintenance costs of a building constructed with industrialised construction, its lower turnover of replacement materials and its high percentage of reduction in consumption and supplies due to the airtightness of the rooms and its capacity for thermal regulation, which make the lives of the elderly more comfortable in the face of cold and heat and, with efficient management, allows energy consumption to be reduced by up to 20% and generates far fewer emissions into the atmosphere.
It is also necessary to establish essential quality indicators and standards for the evaluation of the centres and services, the same in all the autonomous communities, and also to evaluate the results in terms of the quality of life of the people who live there, and a culture of accountability and transparency must be incorporated so that citizens can compare the centres. It is also important to develop and standardise methodologies and technological solutions for the design and evaluation of buildings where elderly people with limited mobility live and who spend 100% of their daily lives in residential homes, in terms of issues that affect their quality of life such as lighting, air quality, temperature and acoustics for each building.
In the new model, we cannot forget about technology, the industrialisation of construction processes and the digitalisation of centres and the ease of data collection, what this means in terms of real improvement in the care of people and control of the building, the options for sectorisation in the face of epidemics, as well as the need to share health data between professionals and in real time with the National Health System. The pandemic has taught us the importance of the digitalisation of all healthcare processes and new buildings must be designed from the ground up in this sense.
The involvement of the new generations and the “baby boomers” who will soon reach retirement age in Spain, increasingly aware of the reduction of environmental impact, committed to the SDGs, the circular economy and the reduction of the carbon footprint in all production processes, the elimination of paper in residences and the reduction and transformation of waste makes usall responsible for continuing to innovate to have a better Planet. For all these reasons, it is important to value companies that are committed to industrialised construction processes, where environmental impact is reduced, where construction times are improved and costs are reduced, not only by making buildings more sustainable over time, with materials that can last throughout the useful life of the building until its demolition, but also by thinking about the intelligent management of maintenance and supplies. As well as the importance of the circular economy in industrialised construction to extend the useful life of materials. We hope that this reduction in costs will also have an impact not only on the companies that operate care homes but, more importantly, on the end customer, making long-term care and services more accessible from an economic point of view to the elderly in our country and the foreigners who choose us for this vital stage.
Our welfare state must continue to make progress in this direction and we have the responsibility to ensure that the so-called fourth pillar, Care for Dependent or non-dependent elderly people, encompasses all social, health and environmental aspects, and goes further in the prevention of unwanted loneliness and the preservation of the highest degrees of autonomy, freedom of decision, freedom of choice of centre and participation. Respecting the decision on how, when and where their own care should be when that time comes, maintaining a full and happy life in accordance with their previous life history and in their usual environment.
Now is the time to take a more global view by expert design professionals for the housing solutions needed at this stage and to think about our contribution, from industrialised construction,to a better world and a more sustainable economy in the realisation of projects aimed at taking better care of our elderly.
Juan Antonio Carrero, Director of Real Estate Business at Grupo Avintia Real EstatePaz Membibre, Quality Care’s Senior Living business director