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Dear 65-year-olds, moving into a retirement home does not make you old and useless; don’t fight it

Today’s retirees are not looking to wind down, they want active lifestyles and community. Photo: Pixabay

Today’s retirees are not looking to wind down, they want active lifestyles and community. Photo: Pixabay

Published May 24, 2022

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Many South Africans nearing, or at, retirement age delay making decisions for their later years, fearing that this next stage of life will take away their independence or make them appear feeble.

And this is especially the case when it comes to moving out of their homes and into retirement communities or villages, or even smaller, more manageable properties.

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Often just discussing the option to move into such a home or community is a tricky one for families to broach and can lead to friction.

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But retirement today and retirement of previous generations are two different concepts, and so are the retirement accommodation options available to many of today’s retirees.

Modern retirement villages offer retirees the advantage of independent living in their own spaces, without the time-consuming maintenance of their own homes, says Garry Reed, managing director of Evergreen Lifestyle Villages.

And there is even anecdotal evidence that such a lifestyle boosts one’s life expectancy, thanks to the amenities these villages offer.

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When is it time to move?

Phil Barker of Renishaw Property Developments says this is a very subjective decision and one that is often taken when people’s health starts to fail. His experience is that the vast majority of people leave it later than they should.

“The increase in stress levels of moving home is directly proportional to the age of the mover. Everyone handles stress differently, so this is not a universal law, but moving at 65 is generally far less stressful than moving home at 75. One needs to be proactive and understand that age-related illnesses come upon suddenly.

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“The retiring baby-boomer generation is more proactive in this regard and there are more people moving into mature lifestyle villages in their late 50s and early 60s, which is the ideal time, bearing in mind that modern villages cater for active lifestyles.”

Barker suggests families encourage their elderly loved ones to visit friends or relatives who have made such a move.

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Considerations for moving to a modern retirement village

Reed says the main considerations revolve around:

  • Physical health: In later life, the importance of being able to access medical care quickly and easily while not breaking the bank, will become a priority, so having healthcare facilities and trained professionals close at hand means that retirees will be able to enjoy their golden years without worrying unduly about these unforeseen eventualities.
  • Mental health: Loneliness, boredom and social isolation become a reality as one ages, particularly if they’re stuck behind high walls in the suburbs, nursing a spouse, or no longer able to drive. Retirement villages, however, are home to vibrant communities of elderly people who are keen to make new friendships, to stay active, and even to learn new skills.
  • Home and garden maintenance: Cooking, cleaning and gardening get more difficult as one ages, and keeping up with home maintenance can be both onerous and costly. In modern retirement villages, professional teams take care of all aspects of daily life – like cleaning, painting and repairs, gardening and landscaping, healthcare, housekeeping, laundry, and catering.
  • Safety and security: At most professionally-run retirement villages, 24-hour security is part of the package. And if residents go away on holiday, they can simply lock up and go.
  • Financial peace of mind: When one buys into a retirement village, they get a lifestyle that suits their needs in every way.

Chris Cilliers, chief executive and principal of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the Winelands, says, however, that the traditional concept of retirement accommodation – apartment block-styled old age homes offering little more than a roof over one’s head and three meals a day - falls far short of current needs and there is a “serious shortfall of suitable options”.

“Seniors are looking for a variety of housing options, including active lifestyle living, residential estates that also offer frail care options, and upmarket urban apartments for downsizing.”

Modern retirement estates offer residents the adaptability to downscale their accommodation according to their changing needs. Furthermore, many over-60s now find they do not have enough money saved for a traditional retirement, says Gerhard Kotzé, managing director of the RealNet estate agency group.

“At the same time, many people who were counting on staying in a corporate job to build their retirement funds are being retrenched in their 40s or 50s and forced to make another plan.”

The result, he says, is that an increasing number of people over 50 are not “winding down”, but instead seeking to beef up their educational qualifications or re-skill entirely so they can forge a second career or start a business that will take them through to 70 or even 80.

Howard Betts, founder of project management business Betts Townsend, is one retiree who has chosen to keep working.

"I have just turned 65 and I am by no means ready to retire. I still enjoy what I do – in fact, I am at a particularly rewarding stage in my career when I am mentoring the next generation, yet I still feel like I am learning."

In most of the built environment professions, Betts says the benefits of experience and maturity of seniors cannot be understated, with their ability to anticipate problems, think of quick solutions, and deal with multiple things simultaneously coming from many years of making their own mistakes, and learning from those who are more experienced.

However, he does feel like he is missing out on the ‘golden years’ experience.

"I am not keen on retiring as I enjoy what I do, but I would like to be in a position to take two or three months off at a time and travel Africa. But that is going to have to wait."

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Smaller, manageable apartments

Decisions like the one Betts has taken are more often than not accompanied by desires for change of lifestyles and new homes, Kotzé says.

“With their children grown and a new career or business on the horizon, we see an increasing number of middle-aged people selling their family houses and moving to more secure and easily managed properties.”

Second career buyers should preferably also choose homes that will allow them to age-in-place if they want to do so without making too many changes, Kotzé says.

Useful design features to look out for in this regard are flat, open layouts without too many stairs, non-slip bathroom and kitchen flooring, easy-to-open doors and windows, accessible kitchen cabinets, lower light switches and plug points, and at least one shower with sturdy handrails.

* Additional reporting by Xolile Mtembu

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