New needs among the elderly of the future

The number of elderly people will increase in the coming decades, and they will come with changing expectations and housing dreams. In Denmark, a partnership between a pension fund and a fund is setting out to meet some of the demand. In the article, the CEO of the fund talks about how the architecture of the future for the elderly will differ from today’s architecture. 

Photo: Helene Høyer Mikkelsen, architect MAA

The challenge is well described: Across Western societies, the elderly will make up a larger part of the population in the coming decades,. In Denmark, the proportion of the population aged 65+ increased by 30 per cent from 2010 to 2020.

“More and more people are wanting to downsize earlier in life in order to free up time and money to pursue their dreams. For some, it is also about security – being close to other people and having help at hand when the need arises,” says Ulrik Ahrendt-Jensen, CEO of OK-Fonden, which is a Danish private non-profit care organisation.

But it is not just resourceful people who are starting to look for more affordable housing earlier in life. The need for assisted-living facilities for the end-of-life target group is also increasing. In Denmark, the number of people aged 80+ will grow by 75,000 (compared to 2019) by 2025.

“A lot of people who need help move into nursing homes too late. With dementia, for example, we see that family caregivers are under very severe strain by the time a husband or wife moves into a nursing home, and we want to avoid that, because it is not good for the family or anybody else,” he says.

In order to make it easier for elderly people to make the shift in time, OK-Fonden has entered into a joint venture to establish privately run care homes, senior housing and senior co-housing communities in ten major Danish cities. The idea is that OK-Fonden will run the care homes and manage the senior housing, while the Danish pension fund, PFA, will be responsible for investments of DKK 2.5 billion of their customers’ pension savings to finance the construction of the homes.


Photo: Ibihaven, co-housing for seniors in Slagelse, Denmark

Housing for Life

Ulrik Ahrendt-Jensen points out that the transition to a care home is usually associated with many worries, insecurity and stress.

“Many of these dilemmas can be addressed by our concept of ‘Housing for Life’, the idea being that you make the transition earlier in life, settle in and can stay there until the end,” he says. The concept Housing for Life is flexible senior housing for people who would like to be able to stay in their own home for the rest of their life. The homes are built in connection with care homes, and residents can use the care home’s communal facilities, like a café and wellness facilities on a daily basis.

“You can’t see from these homes that they can also be converted into assisted-living facilities. They are like ordinary homes, but with certain features,” he says. For example, wide doors, and level or step-free access:

“This means that the flats are designed to also function as workplaces for nursing staff for periods of time. But this is not staring you in the face. For example, there may be concealed steel beams in the ceiling for mounting a hoist, should the need arise,” he says.


Good and responsible construction

The ‘Housing for Life’ concept is just one type of new housing that OK-Fonden and PFA are working on. The partners also aim to build private care homes with 70–100 units in each. It will be care homes that you can apply to live in just like the municipal care homes – and at the same price.

Finally, the partnership also wants to build a number of senior co-housing communities and is negotiating with the municipalities around ten major Danish cities.

“We’re not trying to force these projects down anyone’s throat. We want to build something that is wanted, otherwise we’ll go elsewhere,” he says, adding that they have already finalised a handful of projects – including ‘Kvægtorvet’ in Slagelse, where a care home with 75 places and adjacent ‘Housing for Life’ flats will be ready for occupation in 2024.

And quality matters for OK-Fonden and PFA. Therefore, the projects will be certified according to leading standards for sustainable building.

“We build DGNB-certified buildings. This is our way of helping the planet, but it is also because users are increasingly demanding it. At the same time, our homes must be homely and high-quality. A home should not look like a hospital or an institution, but just like a home,” says Ulrik Ahrendt-Jensen. 

Facts: About PFA and OK-Fonden’s joint venture

  • Total investment of DKK 2.5 billion.

  • Establishment of private care homes, senior housing and senior co-housing communities in ten major Danish cities.

  • Each project consists of 70–100 care home places and 40–50 adjacent senior housing units (‘Housing for Life’).

  • The senior co-housing communities are aimed at residents aged 50+ without children living at home.