You’ve probably seen those articles that list the “best places to retire” in America or abroad. You know the ones we’re talking about. They list a variety of communities, large and small, each ac-companied with idyllic images of beautiful places and active seniors (yep, just like the one we put with this article).
They compare cost of living, crime rates, weather, public transportation, and any number of other variables in rating the communities. Now let’s get real. These factors have little or nothing to do with the decisions most people make about where they choose to live as they age. Instead, the clients we talk to decide where to retire almost entirely based on their social networks – that is, where their friends and family live.
Doing Your Own Thing
When friends and family are in the same place, the decision tends to be easier: stay where you are. It becomes more of an issue when the children have moved away. In these cases, there is a conflict between mov-ing to be near children (and the grand-children) versus continuing to live where you have friends. Walking away from a lifetime of friend-ships is no small thing. Friends are associated with activities you have come to enjoy. Whether it’s your church, your community theatre, your breakfast group, or any one of a number of cliques, you do things with your friends that you enjoy doing as an adult with other adults. These people know things about you, and you know things about them. Having these types of relationships allow you to converse comfortability with people your age about personal matters and personal interests, with minimal judgment.
Whereas moving away to live near children means giving up your established friendships, and becoming a role player in someone else’s life. And as much as you may love these other people, it’s just not the same. It’s often a choice between becoming exclusively caught up in the role of grandparent versus continuing to live your own life – doing your own things. Not always the easiest choice to make.
In those cases where family has moved away, it is not always a matter of where, but when. If you live long enough, the choice becomes easier. Your friends die off, and your ability to engage in independent social activities will likely fade. If nothing else, ag-ing is about decline and loss. For most people who live into their 80’s and 90’s, there comes a time when they will need help with basic activities, the so-called “activities of daily living.” As those realities set in, most people who have family will be more comfortable and feel more secure when family is involved in assisting with those aspects of aging. For those who wait too long to seek out family, or who have no family to turn to, the picture can be darker. While some people are happy being alone, for most of us, social isolation is unhealthy. Even beyond the impact of physical limitations and cognitive impairment, being isolated tends to contribute to depression and make people vulnerable to exploitation.
Worth a Conversation
Where to live in retirement is another one of those things that’s probably good to discuss with your family. Parents may be uncomfortable assuming that their adult children will want to support them when the need arises. Adult children might wonder, “Why doesn’t mom want to live near us?” Open dialogue can help avoid misunderstandings.
Articles about where to retire seem to undervalue, or completely ignore, the importance of social networks and family. For people who have children that have moved away, healthy aging often creates a conflict. They want to be near their children and grandchildren, but often, also appropriately, value their friends and the role of being an independent adult.