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Days of wine and roses: Old-age homes increasingly specialise

How much more will older people be prepared to spend on private eldercare services in the future? That is a big question in the sector.

Vanhuksia ulkona.
Image: Antero Aaltonen / Vanhustyön keskusliiton kuva-arkisto

Old-age homes in Finland are aiming to stand out from the crowd by offering specialities such as gardening, sports, wine and dining.

Residents of a new retirement home that opened in June in Olari, Espoo, have a chance to spend much of the day outdoors and to care for their own herb and vegetable gardens and the home’s pet rabbits. There are also plans to bring in chickens.

The 61-bed facility is run by the Swedish company Attendo, which bills itself as “the oldest and leading company within outsourced care and health care in the Nordics”.

The director of the Olarinpuisto home, Pirjo Pyykkönen, denies that the focus is a marketing gimmick. “We want to offer a meaningful life,” she told Yle.

Wining and dining

Retirement homes with special themes are a growing trend worldwide, says Sari Rissanen, a professor of social work at the University of Eastern Finland who focuses on welfare services.

Some have environmental, cultural or sports themes while others promise residents four-course dinners.

“Such themes have become very common in countries where people choose their own care home,” she notes.

In Finland, this is a new phenomenon. Here old-age homes have not needed to differentiate themselves because even most private eldercare services are purchased by municipalities – who rarely make decisions based on such intangibles.

“In such bidding, the cost is important but so is quality,” says Rissanen, adding that activities and surroundings are part of the quality of a senior facility.

Attendo also broke new ground this Midsummer weekend, beginning a new policy of serving wine with dinner on holidays.

Tomatoes in the sun

Leo Apo, a 90-year-old from Kotka, who recently moved into the Olarinpuisto home, says he’s pleased with it so far.

“Every day I sit here in the sun. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve tended tomato plants. I’ll be harvesting my own good tomatoes here soon,” he tells Yle with a grin.

The city of Espoo now buys the care and residential services for Apo and all of his neighbours at Olarinpuisto. The director has received inquiries about how one can get a spot at the facility. She says that if beds open up, they can also be secured by customers who pay out of pocket.

“I tell people that of course they can join the queue,” says Pyykkönen.

Next big thing: Communes

But how much more will older people be prepared to spend on private aged care services in the future? That is a big question in the sector.

So far in Finland, the only individuals who do so are in the large cities. Even there, private customers remain a minority.

“At the moment, eldercare services are a profitable business,” says Professor Rissanen. “Time will tell how much older people are prepared to save as an inheritance for their children and how much they want to put into their own well-being.”

She predicts that the next major trend in senior housing will be communal living with groups of friends.

“Increasingly there will be non-commercial forms of group living as older people consider various alternatives for their own futures,” suggests Rissanen.

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