Retirement homes should include a lively bar

What is the greatest loss to aging seniors? It happens when a loved one dies, and loneliness consumes the surviving partner. As the great composer Chopin lamented, “I feel alone, alone, alone.”

Retirement is another benchmark for the onset of loneliness. Retirees often miss the day-to-day contact with colleagues. The impact of social isolation can lead to physical and mental health decline.

A move to a retirement residence may also be a time of misgivings. So when weighing the options, you may wish to ask, “Is there a bar?”

In an expansion forty-five years ago, Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital in Toronto opened an English-style pub called the Boar’s Head. Hospital management at the time was convinced that “pub therapy” helped patients cope with convalescence better than most medications.

A visit to the Boar’s Head was unforgettable. Sheila was its jovial barmaid. She didn’t have a degree in psychology, but she was savvy in the treatment of bored or depressed patients. She served them laughter and the permitted one drink a day.

It was obvious how much pleasure the pub and Sheila provided. She listened to and charmed those suffering from a variety of illnesses. Of course, they enjoyed an alcoholic or soft drink. But the drawing force was the conviviality of the pub and the ability for patients to escape the boredom of their hospital rooms. Glowing letters from former patients showed how much the pub was appreciated.

This column has asserted the health advantages of moderate alcohol consumption. But nurses and other medical colleagues may not always approve when the doctor prescribes an alcoholic drink for patients a few days following surgery to those who normally enjoyed a pre-dinner drink. It is not a crazy idea. Alcohol oils the blood and dilates arteries, making it less likely to clot following surgery causing a fatal pulmonary embolus. It also increases good cholesterol and improves the appetite of those confined to bed. It reassures patients they’re getting better.

So, why the argument for bars in retirement residences? These are the long-term settings where people often live for years after losing their life partners. Let’s never forget the penetrating loneliness and depression that follows the death of a spouse. It’s little wonder after years of sharing meals and habitual banter of family and friends.


Retirement residences offer many activities, like bingo, shuffleboard, and exercise classes. But what do they offer for those who enjoy the camaraderie of a social drink in the evening?
Some retirement facilities do not have bars, considering them not suitable to the setting. But how disappointing, when there is a bar, to find it sterile and void of any resemblance of the décor, warmth, and relaxing atmosphere found in an English pub.

Probably few seniors ask if a bar is available during a retirement home tour. They may worry the question would label them alcoholics, and therefore the source of future trouble.
Dante, the philosopher, wrote, “There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.” He could have added, this grief is magnified when you find yourself alone in an empty home.

No one enjoys saying goodbye to home. But new-found friends and friendly staff in a retirement residence can help to temper the loss of a loved one. A cozy bar helps. You won’t have Sheila to listen to your cares. But where there is a bar, it won’t be too long before someone joins you.

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