Smart retirement living: alternative living arrangements for today’s seniors

The percentage of elderly people in Switzerland is continually rising. By 2020, every fifth person will be older than 65, and in 2030  it will even reach one in four when almost 700,000 people will be 80 years of age or older. How will these people live out their twilight years? Will they will be isolated or integrated into a social network? How will they be cared for and medically treated? These are all major challenges facing an aging society.

New demands, new housing needs

Today there are many more ways we can live out our retirement years, and today’s seniors want to remain independent in their own homes or apartments as long as possible. For instance, today some 90% of all those older than 65 continue to live at home. However, demands on living at home change as we age, not just because our level of mobility decreases but also because we want more out of life. Several factors are leading to quite varied housing needs, and among them are the stage of life and the level of need required, financial options, maintaining a familiar lifestyle as well as integration into a social network. The design of the house or apartment, its location and safety in the home are taking on increasing importance. Alternative living arrangements combined with modern means of communications are more in demand than ever.

From senior flat-sharing to a nursing home

Besides well-known options such as living in your own home, assisted living facilities, retirement homes and nursing homes, today there are additionally other modern alternative living arrangements such as:

  • Independent living community / retirement village – Here each person has their own apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom. This type of living arrangement could be summarised with the motto «pleasant, helpful neighbours but with enough privacy»
  • Flat-sharing community – Here several people live in the same apartment or home (single-family house, villa, etc.). Each person has one or two rooms all for themselves, but everyone shares the kitchen and other living areas. Depending on how much space is in the facility, the bathroom might also be shared.
  • Homeshare programmes – In this concept, seniors make living space available to young people. What is special is that instead of paying their rent with cash, the young people provide services and assistance.

In Switzerland almost half a million seniors today live in their apartments with some assistance. This contrasts to 137,000 who live in retirement and nursing homes. New living arrangements are not terribly well known nor practiced, but they are continually gaining acceptance and importance.

Barrier-free living: address this at an early stage

An important aspect of senior living is designing the living spaces so they are free of barriers, thereby allowing the elderly to live independently as long as possible. The apartment should also have good lighting and large areas for moving about with a walking frame, should be equipped with a shower rather than a bathtub, and should have plenty of handholds at suitable places.

For new construction or renovations, the focus today should also address the requirements of tomorrow so that these living spaces can be adapted to the new needs of the elderly. All this has been addressed since 2009 with SIA Standard 500  “barrier-free living” which provides criteria to observe during construction and renovations:

  • providing ramps for access from the street/sidewalk to the apartment door
  • lift cabins with a door 80 cm wide, an overall width of 1.10 m and a depth of 1.40 m
  • only a single level in the apartment with no steps between areas
  • hallways at least 1.20 m wide
  • doors at least 80 cm wide
  • bathrooms sized at least 1.70 x 2.20 m

These criteria can also be helpful if you are looking for an apartment.


Sources and links with additional useful information:

  • Swiss Federal Statistical Office
  • Age Report

Smart living is the new philosophy of life

In the upcoming months we will continue to take a closer look at various aspects of smart housing and living in the future. Please help us prepare this new series of articles. Tell us if and how you are today already living “smart”. Which concepts have you already adopted or are planning to set as a goal? Tell us about your very personal visions of the future along with what you would like to have and the demands you will place on your home of the future.

Articles in the series “Megatrend Smart Living” which have already appeared: