There are several factors that affect family dynamics in South Africa and worldwide – and although they aren’t new, certain populations go through times of greater and lesser migration. Emigration and ‘semigration’ of family members are two of the biggest factors which have come to separate families in more recent times. But what happens when being close to family isn’t an option?
The ‘migration’ of families has become a growing global phenomenon. The idea of the global talent pool is a reality, and organisations are increasingly looking to attract top talent from outside their traditional borders. Remote working is also on the rise, with many industries and organisations being willing to embrace fully or partly remote working options for employees. These factors have a significant impact on where economically active people choose to live.
As one gets older, decisions about where to live often depend on what other family members are doing. Older people often choose to relocate to be closer to their adult children so that they can have time with their grandchildren or provide them with help. However, the increasing trend of ‘semigration’ in particular, which means moving to another city or province within the same country rather than emigrating to another country, is changing this traditional family dynamic. Emigration or ‘semigration’ of close family members can be traumatic for those left behind, especially in current times when travel and movement are being restricted. All these factors mean that senior living communities have become more attractive for older people and more important in society.
Barry Kaganson, CEO of Auria Senior Living – a leading owner and operator of senior living communities in South Africa – says: “Senior living communities are attractive living options for older people for many reasons. Some of the top reasons include the availability of care and support, the “hassle-free” living that arises from being part of a managed community, and being able to live at a more manageable scale. However, being part of a sociable and active community is just as important.”
“In times when families do move around – and with many older people in South Africa facing the possibility that their families may ‘semigrate’ or emigrate – it is important to consider choosing a living option which gives one peace of mind, as well as social contact and support,” says Kaganson. “With possibly fewer family members around to assist with home maintenance and activities of daily living, the support which can be attained in a senior living community takes on greater importance.”
Modern senior living communities are designed to be places where older adults can live an improved quality of life, and enjoy their senior years. Whether one is retired or not, fit and independent, or in need of some assistance with the activities of daily living, this kind of community is attractive for many reasons.
A senior living environment is in many respects a worry-free option, but it is also a supportive environment in which people can make new friends or re-establish old contacts. “Research has shown that isolation can contribute to both physical and mental decline in older people. Having an active life and knowing that one is wanted, needed or expected somewhere goes a long way towards keeping people happy and mentally healthy,” says Kaganson.
“It isn’t just about avoiding loneliness and doing what is necessary to promote health. It’s also about giving people a living option in which they feel a sense of belonging, and in which they can live their best lives,” says Kaganson. “At a time when so many families are being split apart or kept apart by events beyond their control, living in a vibrant community is of immeasurable benefit to those most vulnerable to isolation.”
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought this home very clearly as families who lived in the same city were prevented from having contact during the hard lockdown in 2020. People living in well-managed communities were at a distinct advantage in terms of both physical and mental health, and their ability to have appropriate contact with others. In addition, communities managed by Auria, helped residents to maximise the available opportunities to connect with family using digital options such as Zoom calling. Communication stations were set up and staff were on hand to assist with online calls so that residents could talk to friends and family. While many older people are still tech-savvy, not everyone is up to speed with the latest technology. Having help on hand was not just about convenience in a pandemic – it was about keeping people connected to those they loved, even if they were remote. The same applies even in normal times, when people may want to have regular chats with friends or family who are in another location. The benefits of being part of such a community have become very clear. “We saw a massive increase in interest and waiting list applications after the first COVID-19 wave,” says Kaganson.
‘Semigration’ and emigration aside, some people may feel as though the decision to move to a senior living community signals the end of their independence, however, in Kaganson’s view, this is a misconception and in fact, the opposite may well be true. “Part of our strategy at Auria is to modernise senior living in line with global trends and to move away from the depressing ideas that many people have about ‘retirement villages’ and the perception that this move compromises one’s independence,” says Kaganson. “A well-managed senior living community actually enhances people’s independence by removing burdensome tasks and worries and freeing people up to enjoy their lives on their terms.”
It is important for people to think about where they would like to grow older and to plan in advance, before circumstances force them to make decisions in a hurry. Whether those circumstances involve a medical difficulty or the splitting up of a family, having a supportive community around one in one’s older years is simply a better way to age.