When you finally decide to make the move to a retirement village, what’s the best way to plan it so you’ll end up enjoying the experience more? And if you have older parents, how can you help them prepare for this life-changing move?

To get some help on these big questions, we asked Dr Roderick McKay, a spokesperson for the Faculty of Psychiatry of Old Age of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), for his advice.

In a nutshell, his first piece of advice was to treat this move from your family home to a retirement village as a major life event so you should give it the same amount of thought and planning you would give to any other major event in your life.

If you’re on the sidelines, trying to support your parents or loved ones making this move, he emphasises it’s very important not to overstep the mark and make sure you allow your parents to stay in control of this major change in their lives.

Plan, plan and then plan some more

Dr McKay says the people who cope best when making the move to a retirement village are the ones who spend time planning it.

“I think most of the important things are done before the move,” he says. “You should plan this move carefully and expect it to be stressful. Moving house is stressful at any time and this time you’re moving to a whole community,” he adds.

A swimming pool won’t replace your social network

Dr McKay says another important thing to consider is your social network and how you keep up with your social connections. He says, no matter how great the retirement village swimming pool or golf course are, these things won’t replace a good social network.

“You need to think about how you usually stay in touch with your family and friends – is it by visits, or holidays or on Facebook?” he asks.

“However you’ve stayed in touch in the past, that’s probably the way you’ll do it in the future,” he says. “For most people, staying socially connected is going to be more important than the retirement village with all of its assets.”

Dr McKay adds when you’re selecting a retirement village, take a look at how you’re going to keep in touch with family and friends, and try not to select a retirement village that will make keeping in touch difficult.

“There’s strong evidence that losing your social network can lead to depression,” says Dr McKay. “Of course, a new social network can be formed wherever you go, but this takes time and it’s not the same as keeping in touch with your old network as you usually do.”

Keep doing things you enjoy

Dr McKay says you should keep in mind the activities you’ve always enjoyed in the past and make sure you can still access these in the new retirement village.

“You’re much more likely to stay doing the same things. It’s always better to continue doing the things which relate in some ways to what you did before,” he adds.

Stay physically active

At this age, many experts recommend staying physically active in order to keep healthy in both mind and body. As Dr McKay says: “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain – try and keep as physically active as possible.”

“Also, plan for continuity of care,” he adds. “Try and keep the same GP and health professionals you’ve always had. These people know you and they know your background so if you can stay with them, it’s ideal.”

Maintain your purpose and goal in life

Dr McKay adds that the last thing – and possibly the most important thing is: “…take a look at how you’re going to keep your purpose and goal in life. Feeling meaningful is so important. What are you going to do to keep yourself involved? It has to be meaningful to keep you happy.

“There’s no right or wrong answer in this are – this is one of the things where I think families and friends can be helpful.”

Be supportive but don’t overstep

As far as being supportive, Dr McKay feels family and friends can play a major role in making the move to a retirement village as smooth as possible. But he’s quick to point out it’s very important family and friends don’t take away roles from older people by helping them too much.

“Most people who move to retirement villages only need support in very specific areas,” he adds. “You need to work with the person – help them for a period but don’t help them too much. They may not want to tell you you’re helping them too much because they don’t want to offend. They could be afraid you might not visit any more so they may not tell you,” Dr McKay adds.

Having a close group of friends is very importantt

“So instead of helping too much – just try and enjoy the time you have when you visit older people. There’s no right or wrong answer but you need to respect the older person is still capable of leading their own life,” he says.

When an older person is making the decision about where to move to and how to do it, Dr McKay says it should all be the decision of the person who’s making the move to a retirement village.

Stay in control of your life

“They still want to be in control. You can help but not directly. This holds, no matter how old they are,” he says.

“Even when we’re quite old, we still want to have control of our own lives. It’s very easy for the family to want to protect older people. It’s difficult to stand back – it’s often easier to do something rather than stand back,” he adds.

“But you need to give older people every chance they have to be in charge of their own life. If you take over too much, they may never be in control again.

“Take a look at our leaders – they are usually people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. I don’t think anyone tells Rupert Murdoch what to do. It’s a bit similar to how you have to treat teenagers – sometimes you have to let teenagers take some risks.

“But it’s different at the same time. Older people have more life experience and they usually know what they want to do. You have to step back a little and allow them to do it,” he concludes.

This could be one of the best times in your life for mental health

While it may seem a difficult time of life to make such a major move, Dr McKay points out if you are aged between 50 and 70, this is actually a time in your life when you have the best mental health. So there’s a good chance you’ll cope well with your move to a retirement village.

We tend to think that diseases like dementia are far more likely between the ages of 50 and 70 than they actually are according to Dr McKay: “At the age of 65, the risk of dementia is less than one per cent.”

He says of course the risk of dementia will rise as your age rises, so it will become more of a factor as time goes on, but not until quite a bit later in life. According to Dr McKay, eighty per cent of people at 80, still won’t have dementia.

And it seems depression in your older age is another paper tiger. Dr McKay says depression is not such a major problem for the 50 to 70 year olds as at other ages, but that alcohol use or medical drug use more of a problem.

So Dr McKay’s advice is to avoid the misuse of medical drugs and alcohol and then you’ll have a far greater chance of making the move to a retirement village community and enjoying a much happier and healthy retirement.

“At this age, alcohol use usually goes down but its impact can still be great. As well, prescribed medication can be used incorrectly and this can lead to substantial drug abuse. This ends up being a more common problem in later age,” he adds.

What questions would you like answered about retirement living? Let us know below.