Caring for ageing Asian community

5:00 AM Saturday October 15, 2016 True Commercial

Tao Home in Melbourne.

The needs of New Zealand’s ageing Chinese population will rewrite the rules on retirement home developments and break the stereotype that Asian retirees want to live with their children.

Recent retirement developments aimed at Chinese communities in Toronto and Vancouver have proved extremely popular, offering Chinese seniors a retirement experience that caters to their specific needs and keeps them close to their families.

Developers are seeing the benefits of building “economically integrated” communities — where multiple generations live, eat and shop close to one another, instead of everyone living under the same roof — in suburbs popular with Chinese families.

John Church, national commercial director for Bayleys Real Estate, says these developments catered to the specific needs and tastes of Chinese seniors, offering them such facilities and amenities as tai-chi programs, Chinese traditional medicines, Chinese-language TV shows and newspapers, calligraphy workshops, Mah-jong game nights, and on-site Chinese chefs who prepare traditional dishes.

In Melbourne, Sunbright Development Australia is building an independent living residential project on the back of demand from the city’s Chinese community.

Sitting in the predominantly Chinese suburb of Box Hill, Tao Home has 82 apartments, each equipped with Chinese satellite TV, universal power plugs for Chinese appliances, a kitchen rangehood for Chinese stir-frying, and optional joinery on the balcony for a wet kitchen — a common feature in Asian homes.. The complex also features a traditional Chinese wellbeing centre and an area for playing Mah-jong.

Tao Home’s architect, Eugene Chieng, says that although Chinese-Australians want to look after their parents, they didn’t necessarily want to live with them. Tao Home is a way to keep them close but not too close, he says.

“It’s always good to have the grandparents around,” he points out.

The complex, which is due for completion next year, will have one and two-bedroom apartments priced from A$325,000 to A$630,000, as well as dual-key apartments, which combine a one-bedroom with a studio apartment. Some 80 per cent of the units have already been sold, and Sunbright has plans for similar projects elsewhere in the city.

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Uniting Communities’ tower block in Adelaide.

Church says the mixed-use, multi-generational model is attractive to retirees and families of all ethnicities and backgrounds — not just Chinese. In Adelaide, Uniting Communities, a non-profit organisation linked to Uniting Church, is building an 20-storey multi-use tower that offers a mix of independent aged living accommodation, office space, retail and community facilities.

Church says the potential market for retirement village developers is huge, given New Zealand’s Asian population is set to increase to almost one million by 2025 (and 1.26 million by 2038), and that many of these will be retirees.

According to Immigration New Zealand figures, 11,000 Chinese migrants who entered New Zealand under the NZ Residence Programme in the last five years were aged over 50.

Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley says family reunification is important for immigrant settlement but it is beginning to introduce a much larger elderly Chinese population to New Zealand.

“The question, though, is what will they expect in terms of aged care services. There are important cultural behaviours and expectations that I think will alter the provision of aged care significantly. Will aged care providers adjust to these new demands?”

He added: “Chinese have very clear priorities when it comes to their discretionary spend — on education and on family welfare — including care for the elderly. It is a reflection of what happens in an homeland where there is a strong emphasis of families being responsible for family welfare, rather than rely on the state.

“Behaviour change will occur but not for a generation or two.

“A key question for me is whether aged care providers will be able to offer a culturally and linguistically attractive service. Will they have competent Mandarin speakers?

Care homes that cater to the Chinese will certainly have an impact on the wider economy.

Operators will seek to hire specialists in Chinese medicine and healthcare — including doctors, facility managers, nurses, counsellors, physical therapists and speech therapists as well as non-skilled workers like bedside assistants, all of whom will need to be fluent in Chinese languages.

Church says because retirement villages attracted most of their residents from five-10km away, operators may not need to consciously target Chinese retirees.

“Retirement villages in suburbs with large Chinese populations will naturally offer the sort of experience that the majority of their residents or potential residents expect,” he says.

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John Church