It’s time for new visions of retirement communities!

We all shy away from contemplating the deterioration associated with old age with too much focus. It is not an appealing area to dwell on though this could be at our own cost. We know it might be us one grim day but it’s so hard to really believe it. Dementia does get a lot of press now thanks mainly to charity work and the hope from the rest of us that medical research may find a way to prevent it. Yet decline and age usually go hand in hand, much as we may wish otherwise.

Dementia is particularly cruel in that it finally robs a person of their communication skills in addition to their physical ones. The ghostly quality of people who are physically present but faint echoes of former selves is both poignant and disturbing raising existential questions for our thinking self about purpose and meaning in such vastly altered lives.

Yet I am not sure that the isolation and lack of meaning associated with deterioration has to fill us with dread.  A different vision for the future must be feasible. Staring at the TV or the four walls in a home of any sort does not have to be inevitable.

I enjoy the idea of retirement communities and I am sure those with Dementia can benefit from them. These could be within residential homes, purpose-built retirement villages or even just in the current potential communities of our cities and towns. The elderly should not have to be side-lined if they don’t want to be. There needs to be a choice of options. See link below to Community Cafes –

These retirement communities would have a focus in a particular physical space, whether room or building wherever people can congregate, converse, reminisce, sing, dance, flirt, and watch movies.  Such social activities should be part of enjoying a structure to live by and ideally without the ordinary external trouble of a hostile transport system, and the consequent anxiety that accompanies this factor. This area would represent a safe space . An investment in ourselves and our loved ones, however small, is needed to make it happen with the regularity it deserves.

I know that sometimes what we dislike at any age is being herded together with people too similar to ourselves whether because of age, physical ability or any other sense. There is also comfort in this at times but we all like variety and stimulation too.

The talented individual who would be the community entertainments manager [for want of a better title]would need to consider wider aspects of the personality and cognitive functioning in their brief so that a true balance of people can be represented. Their sessions could begin with a theme, poem, a song, a recording, potentially covering the time that could be most alive for the assembled group. See Reminiscence Group guidance on this site The assembled group would have questions to debate and all present might play a part in producing something for the group. I believe such groups could be supportive and enriching and would be a route to forging bonds and connections that could ward off the isolation and alienation that can be part of a life without community.

I hope Reflection Groups could take place in the wider community too and with a diverse range of individuals there can be a richness and unpredictability of dialogue. It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Surely as people near the end of life the need for reflection is ever more important?

We need urgently to harness the word of charities within the community and in pre-existing residential establishments to source resources that speak to the parts of ourselves that remain alive whatever our age. Using ‘Stimulating conversations’ booklet and other resources in Life Story section to find out more on making change in this area.

One to one personal conversation informed by counselling principles are a rich resource to improve mental health. If only every community could grant weekly sessions for those who need it and more crucially want that one to one undivided attention.

I have been inspired by a conference day created by ‘John’s Campaign’ to hear that one residential home on a weekly basis they took a theme such as the country of Italy, to inform several hours of a day. There would be an Italian language session at the start where a few key phrases were taught, and an Italian poem read aloud followed by a very special Italian meal provided ending with an Italian film suited to the viewers such as ‘Roman Holiday’. There is room for much improvisation along any theme at all. Many people such as an Italian speaker in this instant would be delighted to contribute creatively to such an idea. Budgets might be necessary but as always investment leads to greater reward and greater quality of life.

Natalie Salaman