Most older adults want to “age in place,” meaning that as they age, they can continue to live at home or in the residence of their choice. However, aging in place – or aging in place alone – may not be the right choice for some people. “Aging in community” may be a better solution. When living alone, changes in physical and mental health, financial burdens, or difficulties performing everyday tasks can make day-to-day life more difficult. It can also cause loneliness, boredom, or social isolation. Feeling connected and involved with other people may be reason enough for an alternative living arrangement.
When living alone is no longer possible or desired, what are some housing options for seniors? For some, aging in place may be doable with a housemate. For others, moving outside of the home may be a better solution. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean moving into an “old folks home,” or what is traditionally thought of as senior housing, including: in-home care, retirement communities, assisted living communities, or nursing homes. If you or a loved one are trying to find a senior housing solution, consider the following options.
Remember the television show “The Golden Girls?” The premise: four young-at-heart retired women living together as roommates in sunny Miami, FL, and dealing with similar social and relationship issues as women half their age. They certainly make shared housing look enjoyable. Would you consider living with a roommate? Home sharing is a popular choice because it’s fairly simple to implement and doesn’t require a radical lifestyle change. Older adults who participate in shared housing can enjoy these benefits:
- Safety: The safety of living with someone else who can be there if you fall or need help calling for medical assistance
- Assistance: Someone who can help watch out for you and give helpful reminders, if necessary, such as taking medications
- Cost Savings: Reduced expenses and saving money by splitting living costs such as rent, utilities, food, and household items
- Reduced Work: Shared responsibilities and splitting of household tasks like shopping, cooking, and cleaning
- Social Connections: Companionship or friendship to help ease loneliness
A housemate can be someone you already know or someone you meet through a shared housing match-up program. To locate a shared housing match-up program in your area, visit the National Shared Housing Resource Center online. When looking for a housemate, discuss expectations and needs ahead of time and consider putting the details into a rental agreement. A housemate can be of any age, and if you can no longer care for yourself entirely on your own, someone younger and more able-bodied may be willing to provide some caregiving and transportation assistance in exchange for affordable or flexible housing.
Intentional communities are planned residential areas often designed and planned around social cohesion and teamwork.
- Senior Cooperatives Housing: Senior cohousing or cooperatives (co-ops) are typically about 15-35 homes built around common areas and designed to encourage community and interaction. Individuals within the community may live in condos, attached homes, single-family homes, mobile homes, or townhouses on the shared property. They may share weekly dinners, a yard, gardens, and facilities like a large common room, dining area, and kitchen. It’s a place where people rely on each other to lend a hand and residents have a voice in what goes on in their community. Typically, a co-op board of elected residents decide on shared services they will provide.
- Pocket Neighborhoods: Pocket neighborhoods are micro-neighborhoods located within an existing neighborhood. Individuals live in houses, apartments, or trailers (smaller residences) around a shared common area; typically, a garden or green area which is designed to foster neighborly interactions while preserving personal privacy. Pocket neighborhoods can be similar to senior cooperatives; however, the community aspect isn’t as intentional and the planned community is often smaller in size overall.
- Niche Retirement Communities: A “niche” or “affinity” retirement community is one where residents share a common interest, religion or identity, such as: ethnicity, sexual orientation, occupation, or a hobby. For example, the Burbank Senior Artist Colony is a creative, art-inspired environment filled with studios for painting, pottery, and film production. Many of these niche retirement communities aim to improve the traditional model of senior living by creating a home-like environment with an emphasis on belonging, community, and autonomy.
Senior Villages is a “neighbors-helping-neighbors” movement that empowers seniors to live in their own home. A membership fee gives seniors access to a mix of paid staff and volunteers who help members with everything from transportation to computer support, and grocery shopping. The idea is simple: the local community helps seniors so they can continue to age in place.
Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)
Naturally occurring retirement communities develop as locals age in the community, younger residents move out, and older people move into the community. A NORC is any apartment, apartment complex, neighborhood, or even a small area like a suburban block, where seniors are the majority. As these communities develop naturally, organizations like Supportive Service Programs (SSPs) may form to provide services to these aging populations. The programs may provide a network of shared support services including: health and social service support, ancillary services like nutrition and fitness, home maintenance service providers, and transportation.
Family-Owned Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
Family-Owned Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as accessory apartments, granny flats, in-law apartments, and secondary units are separate living accommodations that are on the same grounds as or attached to a single-family home. They can be an addition to the primary residence, a separate tiny house addition, an apartment over the garage, or a basement apartment. In this situation, the adult child or caregiver would build or offer an ADU space to their parent or loved one. This solution can encourage family interactions while still allowing for privacy.
When it comes to finding a practical solution for aging in a residence you feel comfortable in, there are a number of options that can fit your needs, lifestyle, and budget. Housing is more than just a roof over your head. So, if you’re living alone, consider the above options and learn about a senior living community, housemate, or family member who can help you continue to age in place among other people.