Wider housing choices for older people in Barbados

Kim delivered a presentation at the Barbados Town Planning Society’s World Town Planning Day Symposium on 8 November 2016. The overall theme was “Spatial Planning – Improving the Nation’s Health and Wellness” and Kim talked about how a wider range of housing options could improve the health and wellness of older people in the island.

Barbados has a population structure more typical of the developed world than a middle income developing country. This is the result of increased prosperity over recent decades. The birth rate has dropped and people are living longer. Also, “returning nationals” have boosted the older population. These are people who left the island to find employment in the UK, USA or Canada when they were young but are returning home for their retirement. The number of people aged 65 and over went up 16.4% between 1990 and 2010 while the number aged 80 and over increased by 34% over the same period. The island has one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world.

Kim said that, given Barbados’ ageing population, existing housing provision for older people is very limited. In the private sector there are nursing homes in converted suburban houses which are often inadequately adapted and provide limited scope for stimulus or rehabilitation. The main public sector provision is the geriatric hospital and the small district hospitals. Kim stressed that these are not housing solutions although he was able to identify some “accidental” housing for older people in schemes built for other purposes. Kim said awareness and aspiration needed to be raised and used European and UK examples to show that independence could be boosted by a choice of accessible, manageable and secure, self-contained housing options.

His recommendations for Barbados included independent living and assisted living – or a combination of both with care provided as needed – plus down-sizing opportunities in mainstream housing. As well as specialist housing he identified a need for staying put services such as adaptations, warden call, handy persons, meals on wheels, telecare or assistive technology, and day care.

In planning terms, Kim said location was key and specialist housing should be located close to services such a shops, doctors, pharmacies, restaurants and entertainment opportunities. He recommended higher density development in apartment blocks located in existing urban and suburban centres. He said this specialist housing for older people would release larger homes for younger families and ease pressure for land release. He proposed a scheme for central Bridgetown – possibly in the Pierhead area – that would consist of attractive, fully accessible apartments providing a mix of assisted and independent living and serving the mid- to upper end of the market. It would have shops and restaurants at ground floor level and form part of a mixed use residential, leisure, hotel and commercial neighbourhood.