Whilst the decision to move into a retirement village is a deeply personal one, and unique to each individual, the main deciding factors that residents put forward are security and health-related. A 2013 industry report by McCrindle Baynes, confirmed that “Seven out of the top 10 reasons for choosing the village accommodation option were physical health-related.”
It is very comforting for residents to know that there is a management team at hand that can arrange for assistance when needed, particularly medical assistance, home support and care services. Secondly, the physical features of a purpose-built retirement village with ramps, rails and age-friendly bathrooms, provide more physical comfort, independence and mobility than the old family home. Finally, the fact that you no longer have to do the mundane but time-consuming, maintenance of your home like mowing the lawn or changing the light globe, or even cooking if you don’t want to, reduces the daily stress levels and gives more time for enjoyable pursuits.
These benefits of village living can become apparent sometimes a little more dramatically than one would like. According to Stephen Turner, who is the Village Operations Manager, Qld South, Retirement for Aveo Group, “Some people decide to move into a retirement village shortly after a significant health incident and they realise the benefits of having somebody easily at hand for support.”
Medical assistance, home support and care services in retirement villages are increasing. It is now commonplace to have at least some nursing or care staff at hand in the retirement village and there are regular visits from allied health professionals that are coordinated by the village operator.
Lend Lease’s Managing Director for Retirement Living, Michael Eggington confirmed the trend saying, “A number of our villages have aged care providers and health professionals almost at their doorstep. We have arrangements in place with these operators to provide services to suit our residents’ needs and provide them with the peace of mind that someone is close by if needed.”
Andrew Carins, who is General Manager for Renaissance Retirement Living said, “The environment provides a lot of peace of mind. Stress levels go down and so often we see new residents become more energetic, social and start enjoying life again.
Indeed, studies have verified this improvement in a number of areas and it seems that fewer health problems are a natural conclusion. According to an October 2014 report from the Property Council of Australia “Living in a retirement village reduces the number of hospital admissions through the facilities and supports offered… Compared to the family home, retirement villages offer a safer environment…age-appropriate designs such as ramps and railings help reduce accidents… the ability of retirement village staff to offer immediate assistance can reduce the number of ambulance calls and hospital admissions”.
Visits to the GP are also fewer by village residents according to the same report: “Seniors often require multiple GP visits, on average six to seven times a year. While many of these are necessary, there may also be cases in which a qualified nurse or retirement village staff member are able to assist with minor health concerns or provide someone to talk to regarding health.”
Whilst health and security are still probably near the top of the mind in a decision to move to a retirement village, according to Andrew, “Lifestyle is also an important deciding factor”. He says, “People want to be socially more interactive, have activities close at hand and generally enjoy both mental and physical stimulation which retirement villages offer.”
Ultimately, it depends on individual circumstances whether a retirement village is the best option. For instance, if you are in your late sixties and living in a granny flat with your grown-up children, of course, there are many positive sides to that, but there is also certain social isolation. The children go to work, the grandkids to school or university and you could basically be alone all day. It takes a lot of discipline to go out and do things or meet friends every day or even a couple of times a week, in order to stay active and healthy.
Compare this scenario to a retirement village. As Stephen points out, “In a retirement village, you just have to step out of your door to find companionship, activity and a variety of opportunities for health and mental stimulation. Most villages will have services like shopping outings, a trip to the beach or theatre and so on. On the premises, there are group sporting or walking activities, exercise classes and the like.”
“It’s also important to realise,” says Andrew, “That the level of involvement you want is entirely up to the individual. Nothing is forced, you take things at your own pace and take part in the community as much or as little as you want.”
The good news is that residents do actually seem to enjoy and appreciate the opportunities, and according to the McCrindle Baynes report, “Most village residents participated … with almost half (48%) stating they did so weekly.”
According to Michael Eggington, “Our experience is that people still want to feel involved, contribute and connect to the broader community. Reflecting this, our retirement villages offer a range of activities that residents can take part in. They can participate in fitness or sporting activities together, socialise over a drink and learn something new.”
Andrew adds, “It is also good to blend your new surroundings of the retirement village with your more established social networks and interests you already have. Continue to go out to attend the clubs you may be a part of, outings with friends and so on. In fact, many of our residents have found that they can actually extend their involvement with the outside community. Now that some of the burdens of everyday living are reduced, there is more time available to get involved in volunteering or other activities they have always wanted to do.”
Some retirement village operators are starting to take social and wellbeing factors much further. For instance, according to Stephen, “We have recently introduced a programme of positive ageing sessions and initiatives to provide all our residents with practical advice in order to help them age more positively as happiness does not need to diminish with age.”
At a deep level, the basic change in recent years has been that as a community we are realising in Australia that there are real lifestyle and quality of life issues as we age and live longer. We all want to have meaningful lives for as long as we can, but we are starting to see that if we want the whole experience of ageing to be a positive and independent joyful experience, then we need to plan how we will make it so.
Retirement villages are a practical solution for positive ageing because not only do they provide the infrastructure, they free up our time from things such as maintenance, they relieve our stress from worrying about physical security and health emergencies and then they provide a village culture and atmosphere that ensures our years from around sixty onward are active, independent and constructive.
Concluding on the subject, Michael Eggington puts it very well, “Retirement Living is a fantastic option for many people as it provides an opportunity for people to downsize their home but upgrade their lifestyle.”