• Robert Denning

Is co-housing the future of senior living?

The isolation we are experiencing as we self-quarantine during the Covid 19 era is a lot like what older adults are concerned about in their everyday lives, as I discussed in a previous blog post. This has given rise to a new form of senior housing—co-housing. This concept has been much more common in Scandinavian countries but has been growing in popularity here in recent years. In fact, the first modern co-housing community was developed in Denmark in 1972. The concept is not unlike many of the apartments now being built for college students with separate bedrooms and bathrooms as well as shared living rooms and kitchens. Likewise, senior co-housing includes private residences and common gathering spaces such as kitchens and family rooms, with gardens and outdoor spots to encourage activity, connection and engagement.

While groups of friends may talk about growing old together, in most co-housing arrangements, the residents start as strangers who plan to help each other live out the rest of their lives. The process typically begins with several months of activities to let residents get to know each other. These kinds of living arrangements are typically purchased, managed and operated by the residents themselves.

Health, emotional and financial benefits

Co-housing can have health benefits, too, given that loneliness is a common issue among older adults. Many seniors now are widowed, single or may have never had children. Additionally, having adult children living nearby isn’t as common as it once was. This loneliness can lead to depression which can be a slippery slope to many other health issues including coronary disease, stroke, dementia, and an overall shortened life expectancy.

This kind of arrangement has also encouraged older adults to learn new things based on the interests of their neighbors. There is actually a term for it, gerotranscendence. It is a theory that seniors can transcend past existing opinions and preconceived notions through new experiences and interactions with others.

Besides companionship, many people are looking for ways to make their dollars stretch farther. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical person aged 65 and older spends about 35 percent of their income on housing yearly. Co-housing provides an opportunity to split the cost of expenses that individuals would have to take on themselves if they lived in a detached single-family home.

Safety considerations

As co-housing grows in popularity, those who are thinking ahead are creating these spaces to be aging in place friendly. Some of these considerations include:

  • No-step entryways to make it easier for residents and visitors with limited mobility

  • Lever handles to make doors easy to open for those with arthritis

  • No-step showers and comfort-level toilets to reduce fall risks as muscle strength weakens with advanced age

  • Accessible cabinets in the kitchen, which benefit everyone, but especially those who struggle with strength and balance.

Another future need to consider is a living space for a caregiver. Based on the age and health of the residents, this person could manage the needs of multiple people in the co-housing complex.

Making it work

Having shared values is what will make co-housing work for most people. Whether it’s a common interest in sustainability, spirituality, or having a common approach to life, all residents need to be on the same page. Decision making is by consensus in most cases and sharing is expected. Participating in communal activities is typically not required but is encouraged and will help build healthy relationships with the other residents.

Co-housing is not for everyone. If you are fiercely independent and don’t want to have to answer to anyone, this is probably not the right option for you. However, if you are looking for a living situation that provides you your own space as well as friendly engagement with those around you, co-housing might just be worth a serious look.

Learn more about thoughtful aging in place design for senior living.


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