Laughter or Loneliness? Housing choices in retirement

ver 98% of people who move into a retirement village are satisfied with the move, many stating “they should have done it years ago” – McCrindle Research 2013

There are any number of stories of new residents of retirement villages and aged care communities saying “I should have done this years ago”, just as there are plenty of families of retirees who have seen  the better health of their loved ones when they make the move.

The well-meaning view adopted by many families that “We should help Mum and/or Dad to stay in the family home as long as possible” actually runs counter to real-life experience.

Loneliness is a health risk.

As reported on the website The Donaldson Sisters in 2015 “a recent study has found people who are lonely and socially isolated will literally die sooner than those who are living in communities. With an increasing number of Australian seniors living alone, this is an issue which needs to be addressed. The results of a decades long study from the University College London on the impact of loneliness and isolation has shown both factors can actually shorten a person’s life. The study has proved when people end up living on their own, especially when they are older, the impact of this social isolation and the consequent loneliness has on their lives is huge.”

Social interaction key to healthy ageing

Unlike the popularly-held belief, retirement villages and aged care communities are not “God’s waiting room”. Rather, they provide the chance to protect our health and welfare in our later years.

One of the main benefits of these communities is they offer the social interaction we need for healthy ageing. Residents can be busy with activities inside and outside the home – for example outings to shows, exhibitions, outdoor attractions, shopping centres etc, as well as art & craft classes, exercise classes, book clubs, games, music, quiz nights, and much more. 

Asked to nominate the positives of retirement community life, residents typically put ‘companionship’, ‘friendship’, ‘social contact’, and ‘sense of community’ at the top of their list.

As a result, residents find their lives are filled more with laughter than loneliness.

I have seen this in my own family. My wife’s mother experienced growing loneliness living on her own as her mobility declined, and her health suffered. The new lease on life she found when she moved to a retirement community was a delight to see. She found the social interaction exciting and her health and happiness improved.

Plan now for the future

Over-60’s should be thinking about the future – “what happens if?” – and making plans – and their families should encourage this. 

A key contributor to longevity is being in control – and the consequence of being caught unprepared when a health or other life-changing “event” occurs can be devastating. Choice is overtaken by circumstances.

The first step can be talking with an independent adviser to prepare for possible situations, such as failing health; death of a partner; or being unable to cope with the maintenance of a family home and garden; and create some plans of action for if any of those scenarios were to happen.

My own father’s detailed plan prepared when he was 70 provided a pathway we followed for the next 25 years!

The most important message is to plan ahead to ensure the later years are happy, and not lonely, ones. 

Guest contributor:

Nick Woodhams

Nick Woodhams

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A special thanks to our contributors

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.