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Could retirement villages be a cure for loneliness? Here’s the good news – yes it can be. You can benefit hugely from living in a retirement environment even if you are perfectly fit and able. You don’t need to have health issues or to be a certain age to justify moving into a retirement village. While villages can offer great care options, they are attracting the most appeal for the social communities they offer. That’s right, it turns out many older people are moving not just for care, but for their social life.

What is Loneliness?

Human connection is woven though our daily routines for most of our lives. We can often forget the importance of a chat with a good friend or dinner with family, but these simple conversations offer so much more than hearing about your friend’s latest embarrassing moment. Connecting with people you care about and who care about you makes you feel at home in the world, motivating you, and building your self-esteem. However, as we grow into our later years, changing circumstances mean that we lose touch with the people that once provided this, leading to feelings of disconnection, loneliness and depression. 

Loneliness often stems from a lack of meaningful connections, and while it differs from social isolation, the two can often be connected. In a study led by University of Otago, Christchurch, researchers Dr Hamish Jamieson and Dr Sally Keeling found that 15,000 out of the 72,000 elderly New Zealanders surveyed describe themselves as lonely. This equates to one in five elderly New Zealanders, with one third of all elderly spending over eight hours alone each day. Dr Jamieson says loneliness is well recognised as having negative impacts on elderly people’s health, with similar effects to smoking.

“Loneliness can make many health conditions worse, including pain depression, anxiety and respiratory conditions.”

Why is loneliness so common?

While a lot of older people live in good residential neighbourhoods, near to where they have lived for most of their lives, the increasingly independent nature of society and community culture, means that, when people retire from work and lose many reasons to connect with the wider world, they have a hard time integrating with society. 

“Many people are working long hours and travelling more. Anecdotally, there is a reduction in community networks and neighbourhoods. This is contributing to the high levels of loneliness reported in vulnerable older people,’’ said Dr Jamieson.

At The Sterling, not only will we have an excellent community of residents, but we will integrate seamlessly with the wider Silverstream community with our borderless village design. This means you can experience a true intergenerational lifestyle, with a supportive network and care available, all while staying as independent as you choose.

What Causes Loneliness?

Loneliness is different for everyone and can be linked to numerous factors, which is why it is so hard to combat. A number of situations can lead to feelings of loneliness, including: 

  • Living alone.
  • Moving away from a familiar environment.
  • Losing touch with people due to retirement from work.
  • Loss of income as a result of reduced work capacity.
  • Losing a loved one or friend.
  • Inability to participate in activities due to mobility, illness or transport.

Many assume any social interaction will improve the wellbeing of people missing meaningful relationships, but this isn’t necessarily the case. 

“Assuaging loneliness is not just about having random human contact; it’s about the quality of that contact,” says Vyjeyanthi Periyakoil, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.

It is simple, these relationships still need to be valued on both ends, as it seems frivolous chit-chat is unfortunately, just that. ‘Quality over quantity’.

While ideally, we would all be able to get the support we need from family, long-term loneliness can often come from neglected relationships, most commonly, a lack of care from a partner or child. A common cause of loneliness within older couples is differing social needs, with men tending to be more content having little social interaction, while women tend to need more interaction. This can lead to the woman in the relationship not receiving sufficient social connection and consequently suffering more feelings of loneliness. In fact, the study led by Dr Jamieson and Dr Keely showed 61% of elderly New Zealanders who identified as lonely, were women.

With independent living villas and apartments, as well as a community centre and cafe, The Sterling will provide the perfect balance of independence and connection to suit someone who likes a private lifestyle and someone who wants to feel a part of a community. Men might also enjoy the large green spaces, with putting and bowls, and the community work shed.

How to Combat Loneliness

There are several things we can all do to foster these meaningful connections and stay connected to those around us. Try getting to know your neighbours by inviting them over, set up a meal with friends and family once a month, or find out what is happening in your community. The Sterling realises how important family is, which is why we encourage relatives to visit residents; the children’s play area, café, and large green spaces providing the perfect family-friendly environment.

How Does Retirement Living Impact Loneliness?

Retirement village living is becoming more attractive for many New Zealanders in their later years, due to added opportunities for socialisation. More than 100 people are moving into retirement villages each week and studies show that many seniors benefit from living in retirement communities because of the shared activities and opportunities to meet people with similar interests.

The study led by Dr Jamieson and Dr Keeling found that loneliness is a driving factor in people’s decision to move into a retirement village, with research supporting that avoiding isolation is a more compelling reason for people to move, than physical health issues.

At The Sterling, we encourage people to make the move into retirement living for their overall wellbeing, before they feel the need for care. This allows them more freedom to enjoy the available amenities and social activities in the village.

Good retirement villages provide the opportunities for social interaction that can help combat feelings of loneliness. A number of Australian studies have stated the positive impact of living in retirement villages on maximising independence, health and social connectedness. Recent research in the USA has also indicated that living in a retirement village can reduce loneliness and isolation, promote meaningful relationships with others and improve health and wellbeing.

We strive to provide these benefits. That is why, at the core of our values, we recognise the importance of community for residents, and promote social connection and community support through resident led gatherings and events. This extends to the location of The Sterling in the heart of the Silverstream Subdivision, and its seamless integration with the wider community.

It is clear that loneliness affects many of us, particularly as we get older. Regardless, it can be hard to realise as it happens over time, and you can feel as though you are the only one experiencing it. It is not necessarily because you or the people around you have changed, but sometimes society no longer provides the right conditions for you to stay connected. Retirement villages can offer the perfect environment for you to connect with people who are in the same boat; looking to reconnect with like-minded people in a place where they can easily maintain and nurture these relationships. The Sterling embodies this idea and we believe that retirement living is a chance to live your best life in your later years.