There is a big difference between a retirement village and a rest home, but you wouldn’t know it from reading some of the country’s media, says Village Guide founder Paula Bishop.

Bishop is on a mission to educate people about the difference between retirement accommodation options, as she believes “lazy language” about retirement is misleading and disrespectful.

“It’s very obvious that many people don’t understand the difference between a retirement village and a rest home,” says Bishop, who founded New Zealand’s online retirement village guide, Village Guide, in 2015.

“The terms retirement village and rest home are often used interchangeably, even in the media, and this lazy language is contributing to misleading information about retirement in New Zealand.”

Retirement villages vs. rest homes: understanding the difference

Retirement villages offer independent and assisted living options where residents enjoy privacy and freedom in their own home, with the option of additional care should they choose to request it.

Rest homes, on the other hand, offer a very specific and important service: care for those who are no longer in a position to solely care for themselves.

“To be eligible to move into a New Zealand rest home, you must first be assessed by the district health board [DHB]. Your DHB assessor will evaluate how much help you need in your daily life and make a decision on your eligibility for rest home care (also known as residential care). This is very different from the process of moving into a retirement village, which is similar to buying any other residential property,” says Bishop.

Christa Engelbrecht, Village Manager of Whitby Lakes Retirement Village, says that for many residents, the decision to move into a retirement village is “for companionship, to have more time for themselves without the hassle of maintenance and upkeep of a property”. Residents retain their freedom and independence with the knowledge that support is available if required.

“Residents may be retired from work, but they have certainly not retired from life,” Engelbrecht adds.

When retirement villages and rest homes share an address

Many retirement villages have rest home facilities on-site or nearby, which may be a source of confusion.

“It’s very common for a retirement village and a rest home to share the same address, but they are two very different services,” says Paula.

“There’s a huge difference between someone living in an independent, fully self-contained unit or apartment within a retirement village, and someone living in a room in a rest home receiving around-the-clock medical care.”

The Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) provides a useful definition to distinguish retirement villages from rest homes.

“Many retirement villages have care facilities co-located on their sites which might include rest home level care, hospital level care or dementia level care. Rest homes are separate operations from retirement villages and subject to different legislative requirements.”

Language matters

It’s widely documented that language can empower or disempower groups of people, depending on the choice of words – and Bishop is concerned that people are being too flippant when describing those aged over 65.

“Those aged 65 and over make up a huge and diverse part of our population, yet they are often lumped together by indiscriminate terms such as ‘seniors’ or ‘the elderly’,” says Bishop.

“There is a big difference between someone who is 65 and someone who is 85. It’s like comparing a 20-year-old with 40-year-old. Would you say a 40-year-old is part of New Zealand’s ‘youth’?”

Bishop is calling for journalists to take more care when writing about retirement, especially when it comes to describing accommodation options.

“A lot of the language used to describe retirement villages is, quite frankly, appalling and irresponsible. Much of the media coverage focuses on outdated retirement tropes such as loss of independence, ill health, bad food, smelly rooms, medical negligence, loneliness, and other horror stories, which shows a gross misunderstanding of what a retirement village is, and also paints rest homes in bad light – which is completely unwarranted,” she says.

Bishop acknowledges that unfortunate incidents do happen from time to time, but these cases are not representative of the industry as a whole.

“Negative stories catch media attention, and rightly so, and those responsible need to be put under the spotlight and held responsible. However, such cases are not representative of the industry as a whole and journalists need to be careful not to paint it that way,” she says.

“The language we use around retirement matters, and I believe journalists have a professional and moral responsibility to report on retirement with accuracy – and this starts by making sure they use the right terminology when describing retirement accommodation options.”


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