Every time I visit a retirement home, I am reminded of their importance on so many levels. Their existence underlines the necessity of human connection; the significance of mutual support; the benefits of having people around who can look after you when you are not feeling well and; the value of having 3 hot meals a day that you don't have to worry about preparing or shopping for. It's one thing to know intellectually how beneficial this is and quite another to watch it transform someone you know in a loving and supportive way.
Today I watched a senior I know, return to her retirement home after a week-long hospitalization. I was there when they took her back to her suite with kindness, settled her in, asked her what she needed, and offered to bring her food. I was there when she went down to the dining room and saw her friends and saw how happy they were that she returned. The interaction changed her from someone who had been sick in a hospital bed a few hours earlier, to someone who was vibrant, happy and interactive with her peers and friends. It motivated her to stay and talk, not return to her sickbed.
Had she still lived alone, none of this would have happened. I venture to guess that returning home to an empty apartment, with no assistance in sight, would have resulted in a very different homecoming and outcome.
Unfortunately, not everyone who can benefit from retirement living, does. Many simply cannot afford it (retirement homes are not funded by the government so the cost can be prohibitive if all you have is basic pensions). That being said, even for people who can afford it, there is often a reluctance to relocate because of a misplaced belief that it will take away independence and be too 'institutional'. In reality though, it does quite the opposite. It encourages independence and interaction with others. And, it supports people in many ways that help them avoid institutional care.
It is truly a shame that so many seniors who require this sort of setting, simply cannot afford it. In an ideal world, we would have retirement settings (or at least government funding in existing homes) for people who are on a limited income. I think, if this were to happen, we would have less seniors in nursing homes (and less waiting in valuable acute care hospital beds to go to a nursing home) because they got the care they needed early on before circumstances forced long-term care placement. While government funding won't fix all of the problems with care and housing for seniors, it most certainly will address many of them, by creating options for those who currently lack support and care in their own homes.