Should you move from your family home?


Because you are old? … No! Because you might need frail care! … Not really! Only 2% of those over 65 and 8% of those over 80, is ever likely to require it! Sadly the prime reason in South Africa is security! (but not security alone; here in Africa the osmotic attraction of retirement villages is to a degree fuelled by family fragmentation., and its constant companion – loneliness!)

In respect of the latter: many younger people, disempowered by reverse apartheid and disenchanted by the lack of job opportunities and crime, have left South Africa in droves – this emigration often leaves ageing parents alone and vulnerable. Currency fluctuations have created incredible opportunities for Third World emigrants to earn previously undreamed-of amounts of money, by working in First World countries. (It is, for example, rumoured that the largest contributor to the Ethiopian GDP is money sent home by their citizens working abroad). And many South Africans have succumbed to this enticement; have emigrated – especially the children of the cultural group, who mainly reside in retirement complexes. There is no longer a need to maintain the family ’castle’ for the children – most are now long gone!

While most parents, as their children marry and move off, experience the ‘empty nest’ syndrome; the South African Diaspora makes it far worse. With the family off overseas, there is little need to keep (and maintain) large houses; it is not as though your children (and grandchildren) are going to be staying over every second weekend! This increases the lonely feeling of rattling around in a large home, and for some, struggling to maintain an extensive (and often expensive) property), this can become an unaffordable burden.

And then there is the concern (even guilt) of the younger families who, having moved overseas, worried at the risks facing parents now seemingly abandoned thousands of miles away; seek to coerce them to move into retirement villages… And their motives are not without merit.

Mainly it’s the unnecessary expense of a large Home; the lack of security in a society fraught with crime and violence; and concerns regarding the end of life healthcare needs, that prompt migration from family homes.

I once conducted a survey of residents in retirement villages in KZN and asked why residents had moved into the villages? The two main reasons cited were Security and frail care concerns – 75% for security and 37% for accessibility to frail care facilities. (In respect of the latter, while retirees wanted the comfort of knowing that there was frail care available in their village, the vast majority would prefer it to be hidden underground with the entrance trap door only being opened when needed… They did not wish to be reminded of their own mortality). Additional motivators were the need for companionship and social interaction. All of these can, to a degree at least, be improved by moving into a retirement village.

In summary, some of the benefits are as follows:

  • At a time when we are increasingly vulnerable security risks may be reduced (But seldom totally eliminated).
  • Loneliness can be softened by moving into a village of similar aged and like-minded seniors.
  • Living expenses may be reduced – although this is dependent on your choice of Village and the incumbent purchase price and (even more importantly), ongoing levies.
  • Limited healthcare needs can be provided for.
  • Knowing that you are safely ensconced in a retirement facility, may provide your overseas family with peace of mind?

But there is, of course, a twist in the tale… most of us, or at least our forebears, originally came from an era in which entire families living in small country villages, were reliant on relatives for support; where uncles and aunts baby-sat; where siblings played cricket on village greens; and the laughter of children echoed in the cobbled streets. We came from intergenerational communities, in which the elderly continued to be included; to play a role – even well into their later years. However the wheel is now turning full circle, and while the Baby Boomers, in their pursuit of careers moved away from villages, today they are returning to the communal lifestyle of retirement villages… the only thing missing being the tears and laughter of children; as well as a sense of usefulness.

For the more gregarious moving into a retirement village can provide a surrogate sense of social purpose and companionship; whilst for others, those comfortable with their own company – it often remains an unavoidable solution to the social problems, facing South African seniors – problems such as security and dependency based on health care and mobility needs … but ultimately the choice is yours.