AT HOME: Dr Rachael Wallis said our identities are shaped by our environment, and our choices are heavily influenced by media, such as this image of herself at home in a pretty Toowoomba country setting.
AT HOME: Dr Rachael Wallis said our identities are shaped by our environment, and our choices are heavily influenced by media, such as this image of herself at home in a pretty Toowoomba country setting. BRUCE WOOLLEY

A change of address can alter Seniors' identity

DID you ever think that moving house could change your identity?

It's true for all ages, but particularly for seniors choosing to retire overseas, to seaside or rural idylls, from the farm to town or city, to be near family, downsizing or moving to a nursing home.

"Our identities are created and evolve in places," said Dr Rachael Wallis, of USQ's Institute for Resilient Regions.

When we move to a new house, particularly if it's a big move to a new area, we become the newcomer, which influences how we are perceived by others, and how we perceive them.

We lose our "comfort zone" of our local neighbourhood, roads, shops and healthcare we are familiar with, people and faces we know, perhaps even behaviours and attitudes we expect.

If you no longer work or have children at school, it can be more difficult to make social connections.

Rachael's research has shown that people who become actively involved in their new community, through social or sporting clubs and charities or volunteering, thereby getting to know people and making new friends, have much happier and more successful moves.

Being open to changing your own ways and attitudes was also important, particularly if you moved to a country with a different culture.

"The people who adapt most easily are those who get themselves involved and find a community of people they can talk to easily," Rachael said.

"It's important to be satisfied and happy in yourself in order to make inroads into making a new life."

Being realistic about the things you can and cannot control is important.

For instance moving solely to be near family who already have their own full life, and expecting them to change for you, could be setting yourself up for failure.

"You need to clearly establish guidelines so everyone's expectations are clear from the start," Rachael said.

It was also very important, she said, not to underestimate how much our ideas are influenced by the media in all its forms when making our decisions, and to fact-check as much as possible.

People reported being influenced towards sea or tree changes by programs as far back as the 1970s British TV series The Good Life, through to A Country Practice, Sea Change and River Cottage, as well as by movies, books, poetry and art, painting an idyllic small-town life, without importing into that picture the realities and demands of their own lives.

Unlike other moves, which are generally seen as positive, providing new-found freedom, job options or the chance to have a family, for seniors forced to downsize or move into a nursing home due to health concerns, moving is often associated with negative emotions, fear and loss of independence.

"The important thing is that it is that person's decision," Rachael said.

Taking a proactive approach was again the key to success, she said, looking at downsizing or accepting home care help, for instance, as means of maintaining independence, and accepting having lived long enough to reach the age of needing help as a positive.

"What is most important is to have good relationships and for life to be meaningful," Rachael said.

That could mean completing a crossword, reading, helping a neighbour, keeping in touch by phone, letters or social media, or whatever your situation allows to stay interested and ward off isolation.

"It all helps you feel bigger than yourself - that you are useful and you are not facing ageing on your own."

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