by Wasfi Akab

Myth #5: “The older you get, the smaller the world you live in”

 Louise Tan writes: Once upon a time in Asia, large family homes housed three generations, or even more. Younger grandparents, whilst respected, were often convenient solutions to the burdens of parenting and household care – taking care of younger children whilst parents were out, doing household chores, or keeping an eye on the household help. As grandparents aged and could no longer care independently for themselves, they followed the strong Asian tradition (widely revered by the West, who relocate their parents to care homes) of moving back in with, or continuing to reside with their children to be cared for.

However, as we see Asians living longer and staying healthy for longer, their mindset and lifestyle is shifting from one of nested, dependent confinement to the shared home, to a broader, independent way of living and exploring for themselves. Their personal worlds are getting bigger, not smaller. We are seeing this manifested in at least two ways.

Adventurous travellers

Firstly, the over 65s are accounting for an increasingly significant portion of leisure travellers – particularly in Australia and Japan where they now account for over 20% of all leisure travellers[1]. This increase in foreign travel reflects their exploratory, adventurous nature, which is not lost with age. Our Global MONITOR research shows that 51% of people 50+ are “always looking for new experiences that will liven up their everyday activities.”

This propensity to travel is also linked to the increasing number of children and relatives who are living abroad. Last year (in 2013) Asians surpassed Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants to the United States. “Visiting friends and relatives” is the main reason for leisure travel for 20% of travellers across Asia-Pacific, and is particularly high among Indian travellers at 43%[1]. Far from the limits of home, older Asians are broadening their horizons and seeing the world.

Active communities

Secondly, the emergence of ‘retirement resort communities’ also expands their broadening personal worlds. One example of this is the soon-to-open Green Leaf Retirement Resort Community in Malaysia. A complete departure from the traditional notion of an ‘old folks’ home,’ this luxurious resort has been called the ‘Club-Med for oldies’ by its 68-year old creator, Raphael Yap. It is specifically designed to break the current perception that retirement consists of two stages – either living independently (mobile) or having nursing care (immobile). His resort is designed for the stage in between, which could last up to 30 years – where a person is not as mobile as they used to be, but not bed-ridden either. Yap’s motivation for opening this new concept?

“I wanted to move away from the taboo that comes with using the word ‘old folk’s home.’ There’s stigma attached to that, and people think of it as a place where old people get exiled to, and are abandoned. A resort is always a place where people love to go.”

Yap’s resort is just one of the many retirement villages both being constructed and developed across Asia.

These resorts meet the real aesthetic and functional needs of their older audiences – with features such as non-slip flooring, wall handles and soft-edge furnishings – and most importantly, they fulfill their emotional need for companionship. One 61-year old Malaysian expressed their interest in one of these communities by saying:

“It will be nice to have other people to interact with. You’re not home alone (in a retirement community) but have people to talk to, and you have the option of returning to your room or home if you want to be alone.”

Retirement hubs

Retirement facility projects are on the rise in Southeast Asia, as its attractiveness as a retirement hub is growing. Malaysia secured third place on the Global Annual Index’s top 15 best countries to retire in 2014, with Thailand, Indonesia and the Philipinnes also predicted to climb the rankings next year. The region anticipates a rapid increase in both local and foreign seniors over the next decade. Southeast Asia expects to see its over-60 population rise to 183 million by 2050, a 345% leap from the 53 million aged 60+ in 2012.

The future world for aging Asians is by no means shrinking; on the contrary it’s expanding as they continue exploring abroad, moving into tailored personal spaces, and seeking new companionship and connections.

The image at the top of this post is “At the end of the road” by the artist Wasfi Akab. It is published under a Creative Commons licence and is used here with thanks. More of his interesting work can be found on Flickr.


[1] ‘Shaping the future of travel in Asia Pacific’ – Amadeus


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