How is real estate adapting to aging populations?

 —  Article by JLL Staff Reporter
people getting older in Asia, Japan
Image credit: Shutterstock

On any given night, Shibuya’s neon lights beckon youthful shoppers and its streets heave with trend-setting fashionistas.

It’s not a likely location for opening a nursing home in Tokyo, but one company is planning to do exactly that. The Resorttrust Group, which already operates a string of private nursing homes throughout Japan, is intending to add another such facility within walking distance of Shibuya Station.

According to a notice filed, the nursing home will have 50 rooms as well as personal bathing areas, two types of bathing machines, a main dining hall and a dedicated rehabilitation room.

Its exterior will be “stylish and subdued” while the interior seeks to realize “warm and chic livability” for a calm and serene atmosphere. The rooftop will also feature greenery.

According to a Japan Times article, it was only some years ago the term “tokubetsu yogo rojin homu” (nursing homes for the aged) would bring to mind images of gloomy buildings and seniors confined to beds. However, these have completely replaced by bright, clean facilities with lots of activities to keep the elderly occupied.

Catering to the older generation

By 2050, Japan and Korea will experience significant increases in their elderly populations, according to the Pew Research Center.

Based on the old-age dependency ratio – defined as the number of people aged 65 and older per 100 people of working age (15 to 64 years old) – Japan is expected to have 72 elderly for every 100 working-age citizens by 2050, a rise of 36.5 percentage points from 2010. Korea, on the other hand, is expected to have 66 elderly for every 100 working-age citizens.

While there will certainly be a growing need for assisted living, many people will continue to live independently with the statistics show that an increasing number of elderly people will be living alone. Takeshi Akagi, JLL’s Head of Research in Japan, says the country’s growing number of seniors has meant residential properties are now required to implement “barrier-free concepts to eliminate differences in floor height within units”. Other guidelines include handrails in critical places and wider doors and corridors.

It’s not just homes which need to adapt: buildings of all uses will need to become more accessible through ramps and elevators. In a Financial Times article, Mayumi Hayashi, a Research Fellow in the Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London, notes that Japan has the highest provision of day centers for the elderly in the world. Some parks have also replaced child-centric play areas with fitness equipment for seniors.

Nursing homes are also growing in popularity, with J-REITs specializing in healthcare facilities being listed beginning last year.

Rising to the old age challenge

Graying societies are challenging urban planners, architects and developers, giving rise to unique proposals such as HomeFarm, where seniors would live in high-density vegetable garden apartments that provide them with an income and give them a shared activity to engage in.

Dr Chua Yang Liang, JLL’s Southeast Asian Head of Research, says there will be a need for a range of housing solutions such as studios and smaller apartments. “As the younger generation moves out of the family home, the older generation is going to scale down.”

Tokyo, for example, is seeing the older generation relocate from suburban detached houses to smaller condominiums in central areas after their retirement. “We haven’t seen the decline in value for Tokyo’s residential market, (as it is being) underpinned by solid demand from all generations,” adds JLL’s Akagi.

In Japan as elsewhere in Asia, the aging population represents a shift in priorities rather than a crisis. The challenge is how best to adapt to the needs of an aging population.

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