In a recent BBC article, it is suggested that pressures in social care are preventing older people from returning to their own – seeing them instead referred to care homes.   

But are care homes the right setting? What if patients could leave hospital, obtain interim respite care in a supportive and domestic environment before returning back to their own independence at home. 

The role of integrated retirement communities  

The news doesn’t appear to consider the viable alternative housing options now available for our older people. Through working with integrated retirement communities that promote active lifestyles, social activities, well-being and friendships – we can ensure patients leave hospital and still have access to professional care and support available if it’s needed. 

Retirement communities such as those we have created in the UK with Brio Retirement (part of Places for People) aren’t as common as they are in other parts of the world, and there’s still a misconception that they’re the same as care homes. But if you look at our neighbourhoods – from Beechwood House in the Cotswolds, to Button House in South London, to Landale Court in Aberdeenshire – they all have the potential to give patients a new lease of life and provide the required respite care, tailored to meet the needs and preferences of those leaving hospital before returning back to their own home.


Different provisions 

Integrated retirement communities (also known as extra care, housing with care, supportive / assisted living or independent living) are different settings to care homes. The latter – care and nursing homes – are mainly set up to delivery 24-hour care and support with meals included, communal residential living with residents occupying their own bedroom with access to communal lounges, dining room and other communal facilities, but not necessarily their own dwelling. Recognising that residential care homes are able to provide support with care, especially for those requiring some form of respite – but those going into a residential care home are likely to stay and not return back to their own home.

An integrated retirement community by contrast is somewhere that promotes independence, with customers living in their own home within a community. In the case of Brio, those communities are filled with well-designed homes that customers buy or rent as their own dwelling, with each home surrounded by a restaurant, social spaces, activities, days out, health and fitness centres and other facilities which promote an active and independent lifestyle. Crucially though, should people moving from a hospital to a retirement community need medical support, developments such as Brio do still offer tailored access to care and support when it’s needed.

 The problem with a hospital setting is it’s not a home. Although patients are assessed and deemed ready to go home at the point of discharge, it’s likely they will have become fully reliant on the wards and staff, losing independence and skills to be self-sufficient.

 Wouldn’t it be better for patients to be discharged as soon as medically fit, move into a setting like those we offer at Brio – a safe and secure place in which they can opt into a care package to help them with all aspects of daily living, then scale back from this level of care as they regain their fitness and independence.

 The added benefit of this in Scotland is that social care is free, so based on the average care rates of up to £25 per hour, the prospect of regular daily visits is achievable, and can then be topped up by the customer if they need more.   

 Furthermore, the settings of a community like those offered by Brio mean that it is an open and social environment – a place in which family and friends can visit, in which the customer can go for lunch, spend time outdoors, prepare for returning back home and to undertake domestic chores. Essentially giving them a supported trial run for an independent life again .

Better relationships

So, what is the solution? Right now we are simply running out of places for our elderly relatives to go to, but the worst thing is that when people are admitted to hospital and anticipatory plans are completed mostly all patients aims would be to go home.

 Integrated retirement communities appear to be a sustainable solution, helping patients move from hospital straight back into the familiar setting of their own home. The investment would also be lower too, with respite fees in retirement communities cheaper than care homes due to a reduced medical presence and required staffing ratios – even though there is access to it if required.

 Care homes will always have an important place in our communities and with specialist provision like nursing and dementia care along with the increase of communal facilities and standards now being offered, they provide a true complementary proposition with integrated retirement communities.

 But there are still hurdles to overcome. There’s an evident disconnect between health and social care – areas that aren’t as integrated as they should be – especially as they are funded separately.

 There’s no real synergy between two facets of our lives that really should be more collaborative.

 I hope the role of integrated retirement communities becomes a much more broadly discussed option for people in Scotland and across the UK, freeing up more hospital beds, and giving more of our older people a place in which they can live life to the full.

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