Originally published on couriermail.com.au and reproduced here with permission.

When Vicki Fowler feels like a chat or a walk, she knows there is always a friendly neighbour nearby for a catch-up.

The resident of Blue Care’s Carlyle Gardens Townsville moved to the retirement village last October and has never looked back.

“It’s amazing that any time of the day I can pick up the phone and just walk around to somebody, or they can come to me, and we can have a chat or a cup of tea,” she said.

The 71-year-old part-time disability support worker said living in a retirement village meant being surrounded by people who were at the same age and stage of life – and wanted to enjoy it.

“We’re just all at the same level at the same time,” she said. “Here you can see each other as much as you like, or as little. There is always someone around.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am here. I’m bursting at the seams.”

Vicki is among almost 200,000 Australians who live in a retirement village, a place deliberately designed to support a key pillar of health – social engagement.

Her village, Carlyle Gardens Townsville, is almost a suburb, with about 460 secure and safe homes spread across a landscaped and lush garden setting.

But for Vicki, it is the friends and neighbours she has made that have boosted her life satisfaction.

“Most of us are retired and there are so many social events,” she said.

“You can either live a quiet life on your own or you could socialise every day if you wanted to. Every day there’s something on, from playing cards to exercise, to a gardening club where you can do some gardening and have a drink.”

This was the big difference for Vicki when she compared it to her previous years living solo. Until late 2020 she lived independently in a waterfront unit she loved, on Townsville’s The Strand. But when she needed some extra medical support, Vicki became concerned about being isolated and alone in the apartment.

There were people around – saying hello at the lifts and so on – but there was little in the way of engagement.

On the day she moved into the village Vicki was introduced to her neighbours and that was that. She had lots of events to attend and activities to enjoy, as well as time to herself.

“I’m so glad I made the move,” she said. “I’ve just had so much love and friendship and support.”

How great neighbours can improve your wellbeing

There is growing awareness of the importance of strong social relationships at key transition points in the lifespan, for example in early parenthood, the loss of a spouse or retirement.

We now understand loneliness – especially at these key times – is a major health issue.

People who enjoy close relationships with their immediate neighbours often find a higher level of overall life satisfaction and happiness, and lower levels of loneliness. A recent report commissioned by Relationships Australia found that people who developed strong connections with their neighbours were significantly less lonely, even throughout lockdown periods in 2020.

Relationships Australia chief executive officer Nick Tebbey said it was critical to nurture these social relationships, especially at times in our lives that we could be susceptible to loneliness.

“We know that social support and connection is a really important part of being human,” he said.

“As we age and go through different life stages, there are some significant changes. If we have strong social connections during those periods of change in our lives, we’re better supported and better resourced to be more resilient in the challenges we face.

“That has a significant impact on better mental wellbeing and physical health.”

He said neighbours and a sense of community could be a strong antidote to loneliness, which is known to have poor health impacts.

“The people who identify with their local community and feel like they’ve got that support network around them are actually experiencing greater identity and support. That has direct impacts on their health and wellbeing.”

He explained this is because close friends can encourage people's own sense of self-worth.

“Those who do make that effort to connect and put effort into their social connections, they’re the ones who have that stronger sense of identity and ultimately, the support factors around their sense of health and wellbeing.”

Vicki said her friendships, both her old friends and her new neighbours, had sustained her amid some ongoing health challenges. She catches up with people at water aerobics and yoga, as well as lunches, dinners at the Carlyle Restaurant & Bar, and the garden club.

“I am probably lucky I am a social person,” she said.

“I made the change and it was beautiful. It’s the best move I’ve ever made.”

Click here to view the original article in the Courier Mail

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