Moving from the old ‘hood? Consider every angle

Ben Swankey, of Burnaby, B.C. writes and gives talks on aging issues. He once told me: “If you ever contemplate moving, think of the lifelong friends you’re leaving behind. Are you prepared to make the effort to make new ones? And, if you’re a couple and one of you dies after you’ve moved, what happens to the survivor?”

Sage advice indeed. Before deciding to give up the house and the old neighborhood — whether as a result of a tightening of the purse strings or because the once busy family house is now an empty nest — carefully weigh up all your options. As Swankey intimates, moving away is not a decision to take lightly.

One alternative to moving is:

  • Renting out a room or part of your home to a younger person. That provides income as well as human contact.

However, if the work and the bills remain too much for you, don’t become a slave to your house.

  • You may even think about moving to a smaller home within the old neighborhood.

Life lease options

Researcher Marion Lynn cites a small life lease apartment building going up in the Leaside area of Toronto called Stay at Home in Leaside (SAHIL).t’s designed so local people can still live close to the friends and stores and services they’re familiar with. (Under life lease, when you die or leave, your unit is sold at market price to another older person or couple).

On a larger scale, Toronto’s Older Women’s Network in 1997 opened a 142-unit OWN co-op building in the city’s historic St. Lawrence Market area. If governments ever loosen up funds for more co-ops, that could be an option for older people living alone in many parts of the country.

The needs of women should be carefully considered when the time comes to think about your retirement housing needs. After all, they generally outlive their spouses. Lynn suggests a woman on her own should look carefully at her housing options, buying if possible, and perhaps having a basement apartment for income.

Group living

Retired social worker Olive Kirk says: “I think more older people should live together in some sort of group situation. I could see having your own bedroom and sitting area and bathroom, perhaps with a communal dining room. That would suit me.”

Here and there, people are choosing to share a house. A couple of years ago, I wrote about four women and two men, ranging in age from 51 to 89, who bought a 19-room Victorian house together so they’d never grow old alone.

It’s important too, says Lynn, to be with people with whom you share a common culture and interests. She cites a Finnish seniors’ residence and Chinese senior homes.

Public transit

Mobility and transportation, too, are essential issues in avoiding isolation. Some day you may have to live without a car. Having a bus nearby will be a big plus. Getting around, of course, is largely a health issue. You’ll want to consider being close to your doctor, to a hospital, a pharmacy and perhaps to a recreation centre where you can keep in shape.

Mental fitness

And don’t neglect mental fitness. Studies show we can keep the mental effects of aging at bay by exercising our brains, whether it’s at bingo, bridge or doing the newspaper crossword puzzle.


Another thing: think security. Fear of crime keeps many people cooped up, so settle where you feel safe.