Why good retirement villages are the cure for loneliness
Winter seems to be the peak season for loneliness. Perhaps it’s because Christmas is coming and everyone else, on television at least, seems to be enjoying enormous family get-togethers and endless parties, which makes us mere mortals wonder why we are so unpopular. Partly it’s because the miserable weather makes venturing out less enticing and more difficult, especially if it’s icy. Either way, it can be a difficult season, especially if you are older and living alone.
Some time ago, the government announced its plan to tackle loneliness all year round. One of its main ideas was ‘social prescribing’, where GPs will prescribe dance classes or attendance at community groups. While there is no doubt that social contact is essential to tackle loneliness, and befriending charities and community organisations do an amazing job, it can be hard for someone whose confidence is low to take that first step and turn up to a place where they may know no-one. It’s rather like exercise – we all know it’s good for us, but actually putting our trainers on and getting out there is easier said than done.
Good retirement villages offer choice, not prescriptions…
Another part of the government’s loneliness strategy will be conducting research into innovative community-led housing projects to understand how they can help tackle loneliness and support social connections. We know from experience that retirement villages are an extremely effective solution to the problem of loneliness. Having a choice of things to do, places to go and people to see, all easily accessed from your doorstep with no need to travel if you don’t want to, means no matter what the season you can find company, somewhere to be and something to do. Many of the residents at Lynwood Village find themselves busier than they’ve been in years and friendships flourish with this new sense of purpose.
Those who are less keen on being busy and throwing themselves into the social scene at Lynwood Village can pick and choose how and when they enjoy company. You’ll often see people having a coffee while reading their newspaper in the coffee shop; they might choose to sit alone but they will have enjoyed several ‘good morning, how are you?’ conversations en route to their table. Sometimes just that acknowledgement, and knowing that there are people around if you need them, is enough to tip the balance from ‘lonely’ to ‘happily alone’.
Good retirement villages are designed to make life easier for people in later life by providing the right environment, the right support and easy ways to improve physical and mental wellbeing and they help people overcome loneliness by offering choice, not by being prescriptive. Some people may need daily social contact to stop feeling lonely, others may only need a weekly get-together. That’s a hard thing for time-pressed GPs to accurately assess in a ten minute appointment. Retirement villages can offer a new beginning in a vibrant community with like-minded individuals, where social connections and support are on-hand if chosen, no prescription required. So, if the government is serious about addressing loneliness among our growing older population, encouraging the development of good retirement villages should be top of their list.