We humans are social creatures with an innate need to belong and connect to others, but as we age we naturally tend to lose family and friends – through retirement, relocation, death and illness -and the resulting social isolation can affect our physical and mental health.
It’s in our latter years that community becomes more important than ever; it can literally be a matter of life and death.
Research shows a direct link between loneliness and diseases such as dementia, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression. American and British studies have found that older people who experience “extreme loneliness” are more likely to die prematurely.
Conversely, people with an active social life and whom are involved in their community are far better equipped to overcome bad health and maintain cognitive skills. Exploring new hobbies, volunteering for a charity and embracing new challenges all help keep those neurons firing!
More than a source of enjoyment, friendship and fun, our community is also where we find comfort in difficult times. After all, look at the diversity and abundance of support groups around. Having someone nearby to identify with, empathize with and even laugh with, at shared challenges and experiences helps older adults, in particular, stay positive.
It should come as no surprise then that a recent Australian survey found the vast majority of retirement village residents are happy with their lifestyle, compared to those who have spent the past five years in their own homes.
The January 2018 survey of almost 20,000 people in 530 villages found life had significantly improved for a quarter of respondents, while more than half said their happiness had increased.
Providing this social capital and sense of connection for residents is a major focus for The Village Retirement Group managing director Justin Harrison. Each of his five architecturally designed villages across Brisbane and Toowoomba feature an impressive range of facilities, including swimming pools, gyms, cinemas, bowling greens, libraries and entertainment areas to make it as easy as possible for residents to socialise.
Harrison visits each of the campuses at least once a week and especially loves to join in weekly Happy Hour get-togethers and regular community barbecues.
“The biggest benefit our residents get is the benefit of each other. There’s also all these classes and activities which the residents organise for themselves. We’re just here to basically facilitate their enjoyment of life,’’ he says.
“There’s been plenty of research that states people who live in retirement villages live up to six years’ longer; community and companionship are a vital part of human nature.’’