The final third of our lives is more complex than most of us realise, until we get there. In the earlier decades of our lives we have energy, health and enthusiasm to face any challenge. However, as we age a range of things happen to us and around us, that change our capacity to take care of ourselves and others. Choosing the right home to live in during your retirement is therefore extremely important for your own personal comfort, security and safety.
There are a few different stages of retirement and it can be tricky to predict which ones you will have to plan for. If you never had children, then being an empty nester won’t be a stage you’ll have to go through. If you did parent, then you’ll transition through living in a busy family home full of people, to taking care of a house that’s too big for you; all the while wondering if you need to keep it, in case grandchildren are born. If you successfully navigate this stage of your life, the next challenge many retirees face is living without a partner. Retirement can reveal a whole other side to your partnership – one of you may get a new lease on life while the other decides to settle in quietly to older age. One (or both) of you may become chronically or terminally ill and of course, more often than not, one of you will die before the other. These outcomes are largely unpredictable but your home environment will become an essential part of your self-care and support strategy if they happen to you.
For each of these stages in your life, your needs will be different so choosing a home that can grow with you from your transition as empty nesters, to retirees, to elderly and / or invalid, is really important for your own security and wellbeing. Even if you decide you will still need a large family home, upgrading from the old one to a new more contemporary option will give you more functional spaces, and a property that will require less maintenance than the one you’ve already been taking care of for decades.
If the nest is empty, one of the best ways to make the transition is to also say goodbye to the family home and make a start on a new era for your family. After years of working, running a home and having a busy life, retirement is your chance to downsize your life - slow down and start enjoying how you spend your time. Downsizing to a smaller, more up-to-date home that gives you just the space you need and requires less work to clean, maintain and repair should be your first order of business. Living with a few modern conveniences brings an extra quality to your life too – from coffee machines to dishwashers, in house gyms or swimming pools and secure car parking. Downsizing means you also get to cleanse your life of all the ‘stuff’ you’ve held on to for years, that seems necessary when you have big spaces to fill. Scale back, trim down and spend your time living your life rather than cleaning and repairing.
Assuming you have been in mostly good health throughout your life, you should enjoy a good decade or more of retirement before health issues may start to affect your daily activities. A change in our physical capacity is disarming at any age so choosing a home that can cater to your changing needs and be adapted to support your condition is crucial. Properties should have wide doorways that can one day accommodate walkers or wheelchairs, spacious bathrooms and toilets to allow for mobility and the option to add handrails. Single story properties are also a good idea or upper level apartments with lift access – stairs can be quite problematic for a variety of conditions, or even if you are just a little frail and slow moving. Also consider the kind of flooring – is it practical, non-slip and easy to keep clean? Windows, doors, drawers and cupboards should be easy to reach and open too.
For many of us there comes a point where we can no longer take care of ourselves – even with all the adaptions that can be made in the home. When this time comes, a retirement village or residential care home may be a better solution than living independently. Accommodation in these facilities is purpose built for the needs of the elderly, so safety is taken care of. They are also connected with health care teams who will check on residents regularly or staffed on site with medical professionals who can take care of daily needs such as medications, hygiene and dietary needs. Of equal importance, facilities like these have entertainment options and other residents, which provides an antidote against one of the biggest killers of the elderly – loneliness. Choosing a retirement home can be overwhelming and the final decision an expensive commitment but with support and advice from your financial advisor, your GP, your family and friends you can put together a comprehensive outline of your needs and find the best facility to take care of you in the final stages of your life.
So, choosing the right home to retire to is a decision with its own unique challenges for each of us. Unless you can be sure that your home will still be the central part of the wider family unit and you’ll continue to need a large, fully equipped home, downsizing to smaller and low maintenance is always a safer bet. Of course, if you are still reasonably fit and active then you don’t want to be moving into a home fitted out with handrails in the shower, ramps and a stair lift now. However, these are realities that may become a part of your old age, so buying a home that has the space to add them if needed is a wise decision. Retirement facilities are also a great option to ensure you get the care you need without burdening family with responsibilities they may not be equipped to take on.