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A new ‘old-age lifestyle’

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The ‘elder orphans’ of the Baby Boom generation – unmarried, divorced or widowed and childless – face a very different retirement to that of their parents

Technological advances and socio-economic changes over the past two decades have altered almost every aspect of life. 

And this is even more so for the generation nearing the end of their working lives who must adjust to a world that might well not allow them to retire as their parents did. 

While our fast-paced lives and the advent of the global village have brought many advantages, they have also meant unique challenges. One of the biggest is the generation of “elder orphans” who are facing getting old alone and unsupported, with no relatives or guardian to act on their behalf. 

Globally and locally, retirees have started to look for alternative lifestyles and accommodation options where the pooling of resources and skills creates a safe environment in which they can still enjoy life to the full but with the support they need. 

The Babayagas’ House Situated in Paris, this self-managed social housing project was launched in 2013 by a group of older women who wanted to maintain their independence but live communally. 

The late Thérèse Clerc, who conceptualised the project in 1999 when she first faced the prospect of retirement, believed that too many people regarded old age in the same light as a terminal illness and was determined to prove them wrong by living differently. So, along with a group of like-minded women, who each had a different skill set to contribute, they set about creating this unique community which has proved to be hugely successful. 

There are now 25 self-contained flatlets – 21 for residents and four for students attending classes at university. Sisterly love And South Africans have also begun to view retirement differently and are seeking alternative ways to enjoy their golden years. 

In the current economy, with fewer people able to save for a comfortable retirement, communal living is an increasingly attractive alternative for which people are laying the groundwork earlier in their lives. 

My sister, Samantha, a communications professional, and I – although both far from retirement – have already launched our retirement plans as we have no intention of moving to an old-age home down the line. 

Both of us are single, neither of us has children and most of our relatives are scattered to the four winds, so we decided a couple of years ago to become immediate neighbours. 

Living next door to each other affords us the convenience, comfort and peace of mind of being physically close while maintaining our privacy and independence. 

Samantha says she learnt to appreciate the value of the living arrangement last year when she had major surgery and needed help getting back on her feet. 

Why are more people growing old alone? 

● Escalating divorce rate. 

● Emigration of the younger generation. 

● “Semigration” within South Africa pulling traditional family structures apart. 

● Seniors now generally healthier and living longer not ready to exchange a productive working life for a nursing home. 

● More people remaining single or marrying later. 

● More are choosing to remain childless.

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