Cohousing for the Elderly

Cards, golf, novels, a David Bowie song—the concept of “The Golden Years” means different things to different people. Whether it’s on a golf course, a cruise ship, or (perhaps preferable to some) in a relaxing environment with friends and nearby loved ones, they are meant to represent an idyllic lifestyle that is well-earned and is a capstone to a life lived well.

Before considering what to look for in a retirement home, take a pencil to paper and examine the things most important to you. If this seems like a daunting task, survey your values as follows: Think of your greatest moments in life (moments are much easier to remember than abstract concepts). What are some words that would describe those moments? Assemble enough memories so that you can circle ten (10) words to describe them. Then, chose the top three (3) words by putting each value-word next to another. Lastly, re-write and isolate the three values that arrived at the top of your list and hang up them up somewhere so that they can inform your life’s actions as well as decisions regarding your retirement.

In addition to allowing you to lead a happy and fulfilling life, prioritizing your values will aid in choosing how to spend your golden years. Lack of clarity in the realm of values will lead to a decision that meets someone else’s values, but maybe not yours. Conversely, your golden years will be happy and well spent when the situation and environment you choose matches your values.

The two obvious options for seniors are home health care and nursing homes. These rates vary from state to state, but the national annual averages are $32,760 and $91,615 for in-home care and a nursing home, respectively (rates are based on 6 hours of in-home care). There is, however, a third, lesser-known option: cohousing. Just as studies have shown that co-housing benefits parents, children, and young adults, it also benefits seniors. A study done at a UCLA laboratory has proven that loneliness has as an adverse effect on health. The phenomenon of cohousing was the brainchild of Danish architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer, who saw a dire need for a new model of housing that met the needs of a growing post-industrial population in the late-twentieth century.

Cohousing communities are hallmarks of collaboration and sharing. Duties—such as cleaning, cooking, and yardwork—is distributed on a rotating basis, and appliances, tools, and recreational space is shared, too. Cohousing is a practical, efficient use of space and human capital; residents of these intentional communities have stronger social ties and feel a sense of trust in their communities. As residents of a country that places a lot of emphasis on independence, Americans in general—and especially the increasing senior population—are especially susceptible to social isolation. The harsh reality is that victims of social isolation have triple the mortality rate, and. Additionally, for people experience increasing frailty, it is a practical as well as emotional benefit to have others available to help with outdoor and household chores.

Seasoned residents of cohousing communities in the United States and abroad have acknowledged that, in addition to have the peace of mind that there are others nearby in case of emergency, living in the presence of younger people is an age-defying gift. The intergenerational communities who reside in cohousing complexes provide a diverse and energetic environment for their senior residents.

Whether or not cohousing is the right choice for you will depend on your interest in collaboration and shared decision-making. Regardless of whether you ultimately choose a cohousing community, the benefits of assisted living communities are demonstrable. These include:

* Safety

  • Access to physical fitness and proper nutrition
  • Assistance with daily activities (such as dressing and bathing)
  • Transportation and housekeeping
  • Socialization
  • Independence

Many of the benefits of assisted living and cohousing communities overlap. Chiefly, assisted or communal living provides a balance between the independence that many of us value as well as the socialization that we crave—and, for optimal longevity, in fact, need.