Exploring Retirement


Welcome to the twelfth edition of Exploring Retirement! Michael and I would like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas! This month we are looking at "supportive communities" which are important in countering the loneliness which many older people experience and which can be even more deeply felt at this time of year, with it's emphasis on family and friends. As always we believe in being proactive and looking for initiatives that provide older adults with the opportunity to meet with and get to know others with similar interests. When we find what we believe to be examples of best practice then we freely share what we have learnt with our readers.

This month Michael is writing about baking, no doubt inspired by the television programme "The Great British Bake Off". Michael assures me that his article is intended "to lighten the festive air" so expect a veritable souffle!

Feedback from readers is welcome, as always. Why not send us your thoughts on any experience you have of supportive communities? Write to editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

Building Supportive Communities

In a speech this October, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted the "problem of loneliness" among older people, with as many as 800,000 people in England saying they are "chronically lonely". He went on to add that "Some five million people say television is their main form of company". The Health Secretary went on to highlight the impact of chronic loneliness on the nation's health. He warned that loneliness was as "bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day" and was "worse than obesity". He was also concerned that lonely people were more prone to dementia and early admission to residential or nursing care.

A 2010 study of 308,849 individuals, followed for an average of 7.5 years, found that individuals with adequate social relationships had a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. This finding remained consistent across age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period. The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity).

Source: Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7)

Professor Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Centre on Longevity, has developed an interesting take on social relations among older people. According to her Socio-Emotional Selectivity theory, as we get older we become more selective about what we are prepared to devote our time to. Overall, older people are less motivated to make new friends and more motivated by the upkeep of the ones they already have. This makes it more difficult for individuals to develop the social support they need to have in place as they age.

In our May issue (see Past Issues) I introduced the concept of a "social portfolio" which individuals could build over time and which would be there to give support, if needed. In this issue we are focussing more on community initiatives which reach out to older people and which are inclusive. I have chosen to feature Beacon Hill Village in Boston, which I visited during my Churchill Travel Fellowship, because it is run by the community for the community. Another initiative that I have recently learnt about is Friends in Retirement, based in Solihull in the West Midlands, not far from Birmingham. I am impressed by the fact that they have been in existence for over 35 years!

Featured Activity 1

Beacon Hill Village

Beacon Hill Village started in the late 1990's when it's founders began to approach retirement age. One wet and windy night a Boston couple returned home to find that their roof had sprung a leak. The intrepid husband tied a rope around his waist and crawled out onto the roof while his wife clung to the other end of the rope. He managed to repair the leak and crawled back in to safety, at which point his wife remarked "I think we are getting too old for this sort of thing!" This story went the rounds among their neighbours and started them all thinking and talking about how to cope with everyday problems as they grew older.

They came up with three key ideas that have remained central to the Beacon Hill Village concept ever since -

  1. Concierge facilities - so they can maintain their independence
  2. Community building - with a monthly programme of activities
  3. A backstop for when they have health problems e.g. if they have to go into hospital for a few weeks, their home is taken care of.

As the concept took shape they persuaded nearby Harvard Business School to look into the idea and provide them with some free consultancy on the feasibility of the proposal. The Business School did some financial projections that suggested $1000 per head would be needed annually for the scheme to break even. The residents rejected this as too expensive and opted for an annual charge of $580 per person, with $780 for a married couple. A number of subsidised memberships (Membership Plus) would also be available to less well off local residents at $100 pa. Membership Plus also includes $250 credit towards programmes and services. Membership Plus is means-tested (<$45000 pa) based on a copy of your last years tax return! The residents expected that they would break-even when membership exceeded 300 but this turned out to be overly optimistic and the Business Schools projections have proved to be more realistic. The short fall in funding is currently bridged by a mixture of money from foundations, private donations and fund raising events. Beacon Hill Village provides local employment for about 7 part-time staff, with either a social work or nursing background.

To watch a video about Beacon Hill Village, click on the image below.

Featured Activity 2

Friends in Retirement

The Friends in Retirement website states that it's purpose is to provide the opportunity for the active retired (or anyone over 50 with some free weekday time) to have fun, enjoy life and most importantly to build long lasting friendship through engaging in a wide variety of activities. With an annual membership fee of £2 it seems like excellent value for money. Certainly their 1400+ members seem to think so! To view their website, click here