Ageing in style: What a day in the life of a retirement estate resident looks like

Gone are the days of sitting in a rocking chair with your knitting, in a room full of seniors doing the same things ‒ playing bridge or watching soapies on the television.


Retirement options have evolved over the years to include more than just the average old-age home offerings. Across South Africa, there is increasing demand for lifestyle villages that feel more like a long holiday rather than a waiting room for a hospital stay.


The newer resort-style retirement developments offer great entertainment facilities with numerous restaurants, lounges, indoor heated pools, gymnasiums, beauty salons and great outdoor spaces. Residents typically enjoy a wide variety of social events, clubs and engagements.


Services in these types of estates also include home and garden maintenance, on-the-ground security, 24-hour medical and frail care and domestic help. The idea is that you are taken care of when necessary, while still retaining your independence.


Arthur Case, CEO of Evergreen Lifestyle, a leading provider of retirement living in South Africa, says they've seen a massive surge in demand for lifestyle retirement in the last few years.


"More and more South Africans are looking for quality of life, right from the start of their retirement. Retirement doesn't mean you have to stop being busy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite," he explains.


Residents of Evergreen Lifestyle retirement estates share their experiences of what life in these estates is like on a day-to-day basis. Never mind knitting, many boast of their incredibly active social lives. It’s said of small towns that it’s a busier life than living in the city and these estates offer the same kind of community feel.


For Jean and Peter De Villiers, who live in Evergreen’s Diepriver estate, going out at night was no longer enjoyable before they moved because neither of them liked to drive in the dark.


“Now we can just dress up, walk a short distance, and we've arrived. We have a very active social life here. You can do as much or as little as you like – whether its line dancing or movie night or the games evenings or attending a church service. There's always a wide variety of things to do.”


Sophia, an Evergreen Muizenberg resident, explains that it is the company of other people that makes socialising in the estate so special.


“If you open your front door there is always someone to chat to. The company of other people here is wonderful. And there’s always so much to do – there’s the library, the pool, the gym, movie nights, walkabouts, bus tours. Strangers become friends. There’s never a dull moment.” 


John, a fellow Muizenberg resident, adds: “People often think ‘what on earth am I going to do when I retire?’ – but I can tell you there’s not a lot of time for boredom at a retirement estate. There is so much to do with all the clubs and social activities. There’s the gym and library, we have a photographic society and a wine club that meets regularly, we've got a games room where we play bridge, chess, Canasta.”


Above and beyond the social aspect, another key factor to consider in choosing a retirement estate is safety and security.


“We have been here for over two years now and it is definitely the best move we ever made. The security and the guards are phenomenal and to have the ability to pack up and go with the knowledge that our property is going to be well looked after and safe is so reassuring,” explain the Sutherlands from Evergreen Muizenberg.


This peace of mind is particularly reassuring to those who have moved into retirement living on their own.


“As a single woman, the sense of security and peace of mind is invaluable. The women living here say they literally put their heads down at night and go to sleep – no problem. We’re not nearly as anxious as we were living on our own, and if there are any issues with security or maintenance – not my problem. It’s such a comfort to know that management are always on hand to handle things,” says Sue Butcher, from Evergreen Diepriver.


While you might not need medical assistance at all, or for many years to come, many residents note that it is reassuring to know that it is there if, or when, it is needed.


“With the Frail Care centre open, we can relax and live our lives knowing that we’ll be taken care of no matter what the future holds. We don't have any worries and I think because of that we are probably in better health too,” say the Van der Vyvers, Evergreen Muizenberg residents.


Others, however, moved into retirement estates for the medical care itself.


“We were looking for a place to retire to and we have certain needs. My husband hasn't been very well and, being deaf, he also needed to have the assurance that if anything happened to me he would have support on hand as he can’t simply pick up a telephone and call for help,” adds Jean de Villiers.


The retirement sector is growing in South Africa with 6.8 million retirees being predicted by 2030, so it is likely demand will remain high for these resort-type village environments.


According to Case, this surge in interest to reside in a lifestyle retirement development will see Evergreen expand to 1074 units (double its current figure) over the next 12 months, growing to 5000 units by 2019.


The coming year will see Evergreen targeting new regions with new developments in the Midlands (Hilton) and Umhlanga (Ridgeside) in KwaZulu-Natal and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.