Story in partnership with Goodwin.
For many older Canberrans, one of the most important factors to their overall health and well-being is how and where they live.
One in four older Australians live alone. While the vast majority report having visitors and not feeling lonely, there is a portion that do suffer in silence.
Social isolation can be highly detrimental to both physical and mental health, especially when you are getting on in years.
In fact, the American CDC says, social isolation significantly increases a person's risk of premature death from all causes. Moreover, the risk may even rival those posed by smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
As people age, they often find it difficult to remain independent or maintain meaningful relationships with people their own age, leading to feelings of social isolation.
That's why retirement communities are so important, Erik Boddeus says. As the Executive Manager of Retirement Living, Property and Development for Goodwin, Mr Boddeus says he has seen first hand the positive impact communal living can have on the mental health of seniors.
Mr Boddeus says Goodwin often receives phone calls from family members of residents, telling them what an improvement they have seen in their parents. Since moving in, they say, they are so much happier and more independent.
"For most people (moving to a retirement community) is a journey but we see a lot of people who end up getting a whole new lease on life," he said.
"When you live in a community of 200 people you will certainly find people you connect with, even if it's just one other person, that can make a difference," he continued.
"People start to take on activities they probably wouldn't have done before. Longer walks with friends or picking up a paint brush for the first time and realising they've actually always been a gifted artist. We see these types of things all the time."
All of Goodwin's villages are designed to promote independent living, he explained, and the Downer village will be no different.
Goodwin operates a number of retirement communities across both the ACT and NSW. They have currently submitted a Development Approval (DA) to build a state of the art retirement village on the old school site in Downer.
Located a stone's throw from bus and light rail stops on Northbourne Ave and just minutes from the Dickson shops, the village has everything seniors need to lead an active lifestyle.
The village will have outstanding facilities, Mr Boddeus says, including beautiful gardens, a full gymnasium (specially designed for seniors), outdoor barbecue areas, a library, arts studio, and a community hub where the residents can participate in daily activities or do their own thing.
Whether it is arts and crafts in the studio or having a get together in the lounge area, everything has been designed with an independent, active lifestyle in mind.
If the current DA is approved, there will be 109 two and three bedroom independent living apartments and 20 single bedroom assisted living apartments.
All of the independent units are large and have been designed with a "last home buyer" in mind, Mr Boddeus explained. Not only do they have spacious bedrooms and two bathrooms (including an ensuite), they will all be built to "adaptability standards".
Every aspect of the apartment is designed to allow ease of mobility. The doors and ensuites are both wide enough to allow easy access for wheelchairs and other walking aids. They are also purposely built to avoid slips, trips and falls, which can be highly debilitating to seniors.
"When people live in the same home they've been living in for the last 20, 30 or 40 years, sometimes little things like a little step or a lip can prevent them from being able to 'age in place'," he explained.
"So you need to think about appropriate housing. That's why all of these apartments have been designed with those changing needs in mind."
The 20 assisted living apartments are also designed to maximise independence and enhance the quality of life. The apartments are shared across three separate households.
Each assisted living unit has a large bedroom, an ensuite, kitchenette and spacious living area, and residents are provided with catering, cleaning, and caring services. Assisted living also has additional common areas as well as a shared kitchen. This allows the residents to enjoy each other's company and easily host visitors, Mr Boddeus said.
The village will also be fully managed, meaning no resident will have to worry about any gardening or maintenance. There will also be an activities coordinator who will both plan events and help residents to facilitate their own activities.
At the end of the day, Mr Boddeus says moving into a retirement community is a lifestyle choice. It's not for everybody, that's why Goodwin offers residents a six-month money back guarantee (minus rent), but for the vast majority, it really does give a new lease on life.