- GG: I am blessed to have a following of younger readers. Those of you who are worrying about the future of your parents or grandparents may find something of interest in this post. Otherwise, you might like to take a raincheck on this one 🙂
Tuesday October 1st was the International Day of Older Persons. I had never heard of such a day until a week ago. That was when our resident manager mentioned it in relation to a film that the village operator was making. Would some of us participate in an interview? All we had to do was answer a few questions on camera. A group of us agreed without delving into the why’s and wherefores.
IRT (Illawarra Retirement Trust), the owner and operator of the complex in which we live, own around thirty retirement villages. So they armed one of their employees with a camera and a list of questions and sent him off to canvas opinions from residents across a number of them. The result is a mixed bag of age groups, attitude and lifestyle, with a hint that the underlying demographics are changing. (I was delighted to notice that my blatant spruik for my blog managed it past the cutting room floor).
I went in search of the definition of “older person” and discovered the answer is “it depends” according to the economic and social conditions of the country in which you live. In parts of Africa, for example, the yardstick is fifty years old. The United Nations Social Policy and Development Division uses sixty as a starting point. Their web-page on ageing states “there are approximately 810 million persons aged 60 years or over in the world in 2012 and this number is projected to grow to more than 2 billion by 2050”. Phew!
Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, is quoted as saying, “By 2050, the number of older persons will be twice the number of children in developed countries, and the number of older persons in developing countries is expected to double. This trend will have profound effects on countries and individuals.”
The baby boomers are on their way into retirement, swelling the percentage of the population aged over sixty. This is not new information. However, it is not just the baby boomer group who are more aspirational for what they want from the rest of their life. I don’t think it is any accident that IRT rebranded their business. Focusing on “retirement” – with its connotation that it is time to give up the ghost – is as out of favour as the “fried” in Kentucky Fried Chicken, now rebranded as KFC.
We prefer to think of our village as a lifestyle resort for the over 55s. Our independent living residents range in age from 55 to 94. They are a lively and social lot who love to travel and get out and about. Woe betide anyone who suggests they are ‘over the hill’.
People move here for any number of reasons. Security, ease of maintenance, access to healthcare, support if needed, are practical considerations. Socialness, companionship and activities are high priorities. A large percentage are passionate golfers. This is not the place to be if you are seeking to be a hermit.
For Bill, it was all about the lifestyle. Here is beach, here is golf course, here is aquatic centre, here is brand new apartment. Job done. When do we move in?
Me, I am more analytical. I thought of my girlfriend’s mother, widowed at 60, living in a war service home on a huge block of land, both needing more upkeep and attention than she could manage. She moved into one of the first retirement villas, and gained such a new lease on life that we had to make an appointment whenever we wanted to visit her. She had an active life until ill-health grounded her twenty-five years later. Her daughter was able to live with her in the last few months, so she died with her independence intact.
Around the same time, the mid 80s, I was asked to be a mediator at a new retirement village. It was a volunteer community role where you might be called in to lend an ear if a resident had a beef with the manager. I was never called upon in this capacity, but I went to visit from time to time. The facilities such as a tennis court and meeting hall were not being used. The residents had waited too long before making the move from the family home, and they had no energy or inclination for much beyond the knitting circle or a game of pool. The most productive thing I (and the local precinct committee) could do for them was to lobby Australia Post to put a letter collection box inside their village.
Well, I certainly didn’t want to be in that position! I like to joke that I came here while I was still young enough to learn everyone’s names, and hopefully that will be the last thing I forget.
And therein lies one of the core reasons people move into community living. Insurance in case the Big C (cancer) or the Dreaded D (dementia) grabs you. Hopefully, you can stay on living independently in your own apartment if that happens, but there is an aged care facility attached. It means that if illness or incapacity strike, it is possible for one partner to have living assistance while the other stays independent, and both of them can still be in daily contact. It is a comfort, even if we all hope that we will never need it.
So we are fortunate to be in this position. The theme for this year’s International Day of Older Persons was ‘The future we want: what older persons are saying‘. If I had been asked the question I would have said “good health, financial security, opportunity to travel, good company, intellectual stimulation, having my opinion valued, and the ability to live independently until the day I drop off my perch”. In other words, to be ageing ‘actively’.
As the older population increases, and facilities in some countries fail to keep pace, there will be plenty who will be grateful simply for security of housing, nutrition and healthcare. Australia considers itself the lucky country, but as this article “room for improvement on global well being ranking” addresses, Australia has no right to rest on its laurels.
Monday 7th October 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Wollongong