Loneliness is a mental state that can have profound physical consequences, most notably, the possibility of a shorter life1. As humans, we spend the first half of our lives surrounded by people; first among our families, then with friends at school, and then into our working lives. But for many Australians aged over 65, the built-in interaction that comes with living within the community, can start to drop off as they get older.
There are 3.5 million Australians aged 65 and over, and this age group is more likely to live alone than any other group in the country. It should be said that living alone doesn’t necessarily equate to loneliness, nor social isolation – though it has been identified as a key contributor to both.
So what causes loneliness in older Australians, what are the risks and how can it be fixed?
People are lonely for many and varied reasons however, there are some consistent triggers. The death of a partner or close friends, lowered mobility making it more difficult to get out and about, and reduced access to the community either due to no longer driving or poor transport options are some common catalysts.2
The thing is, not everyone who’s experiencing lowered mobility and impaired wellbeing, is ready for aged care. That said, for some, living alone is becoming too difficult to manage on their own.
Life in a Serviced Apartment can offer the right alternative to aged care, providing the option to live within a vibrant and active retirement community, with additional support to make daily chores easier.
Furthermore, the infrastructure of a retirement community works to directly address many of the catalysts of loneliness and social isolation – from living in close confines with people at a similar life stage, to in-built social and sporting activities that foster interaction, to frequent bus services taking residents into the local shops and cafes. There is also compelling evidence to show that for many, life improves upon moving into the village.
Social interaction can combat isolation and loneliness.
Of all existing misconceptions about retirement living, the Serviced Apartments model is likely the biggest. Serviced Apartments are not aged care beds. They are apartments that are specifically designed for retirement village residents with lower mobility; for people who are largely independent but need (or want) additional support.
Due to lower mobility and often increased health concerns, residents from Serviced Apartments benefit as much (if not more) from community living. Joseph Bailouni, Village Manager of Fiddlers Green in Berwick, Victoria said it’s important for villages to cater for these residents.
“For our residents who have low mobility – and this includes many of our residents living in Serviced Apartments - it can be easy for them to fall into the trap of letting their ailments confine them to their home, or even their bed, and of course the risk is that they can end up very isolated,” Mr Bailouni said.
“We work extremely hard to make sure that all our residents – especially the ones who might be inclined to shy away from socialising due to declining health – are given the choice to get out of the house and be involved in village life, so they can enjoy what they can do, rather than focus on what they can’t. Our low-mobility activity group is very popular for this reason.”
Tracy Todhunter, Sales Manager at Henry Kendall Gardens on the Central Coast in New South Wales notes that in addition to structured social events, Serviced Apartment residents benefit significantly from having day-to-day contact with village staff. She recounts the experience of one resident who moved into a Serviced Apartment following the passing of his wife and how the village staff were instrumental in getting him back on his feet.
“His days were initially spent in bed and his health was declining due to irregular eating and lack of social interaction. But then, following the support and motivation from staff, the gentleman eventually began to socialise, establish a routine, and get involved with the community; his health improved as a result of him eating regularly and socialising with other residents.”
Planning ahead makes for a wonderful, rewarding retirement.
Ms Todhunter says that too often, people are making the decision to move into retirement (and specifically a Serviced Apartment), from a hospital bed.
“This is extremely common…someone has a fall or a lingering illness, and they’re forced during their time in hospital to decide where they’re going to live – given they’re not managing at home. In the rush to make a decision, people end up in aged care – when they’d be much better off in a Serviced Apartment, as part of a big, vibrant and active community,” said Ms Todhunter.
“Honestly, my favourite part of the job is watching our new Serviced Apartment residents move in… often they have had a health scare of some kind, so they’re a bit more fragile. But after a few weeks, I see them getting more involved and start to thrive… it’s amazing to watch.”
2 Which UK - Tackling loneliness
3 Hello Care (page 4)
4 National overview of the retirement village sector (page 8)
5 National overview of the retirement village sector (page 12)