It's time for a rethink on living in retirement - Alastair Stewart

Covid-19 has blown open the doors into the challenges and problems faced by others.

Monday, 4th January 2021, 7:00 am

Yet we seem incapable or unwilling to change how we treat ageing people in our society. It was Gandhi who said: "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."

As a society that has overtly put 'great' in our name, can we say we're doing well?

The Covid-19 care home crisis would suggest otherwise. Serious concerns remain, and questions need to be answered. But even before the pandemic, older people have always been 'someone else's problem'. We did not clap for unpaid carers over the last year, yet we continue to rely on them.

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How we treat older generations is a marker for the quality of our society. And that begins with a realistic discussion on the funding for older people, the provision of care and the high-quality amenities they deserve.

It is no longer acceptable to justify putting our older citizens 'somewhere' because few of us can look mortality in the face.

Covid has exacerbated that other great human frailty: desensitising to a constant stream of suffering and personal plight.

The 'Golden Rule' has never seemed more important for a society. 'Do unto others' should be revised to 'treat others as you'd like to be tweeted about.'

The pandemic has exposed the fragility of retirement living. One day, that will be us.

The pandemic's global nature has showcased contrasts and solutions to issues too often presumed to be unique to their country.

In the UK, apartment and unit blocks are typically what we think of for pensionable age people. And yet Covid has exposed several problems: older people are most easily cut off.

Digital solutions partially alleviate this and it's more important than ever that every effort is made to encourage proposals which foster meaningful community links.

Across the English-speaking world, in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, retirement living looks very different.

Outside city centres, many retirees occupy lifestyle developments with bungalows or semi-detached houses and manicured gardens.

If Covid-19 has presented an opportunity, it's to rethink what housing looks like for older generations in Scotland. Some have already embraced this.

Juniper Residential – part of Cruden Group – has adopted this approach with Muirwood Gardens in Kinross with bungalows and villas in development.

As we rebuild from the pandemic, it's critical to think of how best to preserve older people's dignity. Questions about funding and the future provision of care should be addressed with the same urgency as the pandemic itself.

The 'demographic time bomb' was ticking long before Covid.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant