PICTURE IT: A HIT 1980S sitcom in which four senior women share a home in Miami. Hilarity ensues, and the world falls for "The Golden Girls." But more than just a beloved television show, the concept on which their wise and friend-first adventures were built is becoming a more common arrangement for regular people to age in place and get the most out of their later years with friends by their side.
Senior or elderly co-housing "isn't a new concept," says Sue Johansen, vice president of partner services with A Place for Mom, a senior referral service based in Seattle. "But what is new is that people are trying to explore it in different ways. What we're seeing today is that seniors are wanting to stay in their homes longer," with two primary reasons driving that move: socialization and cost-sharing.
"It's usually the financial piece that's the stronger driver that we've seen," Johansen says. Co-housing offers multiple seniors who'd rather not move into an assisted living community or nursing home another option for staying at home longer while spending less money to keep up a separate household. "It allows both the senior who owns the home and others who rent a room to be in an independent environment for longer, to pool resources financially, to live more comfortably and to share an environment with somebody who may face similar challenges."
For example, if none of the co-housing residents are able to keep up with housekeeping duties, perhaps they can split the expense of hiring a cleaning service. Home health care may also be more economical when delivered in a co-housing situation. "Facilitating care for multiple residents" is a common feature of these sorts of living situations. "They may have a home care company that comes in or they may have a cleaning service or an errand service that can help serve all two or three seniors in a home together," Johansen says.
Similar arrangements can often be found in senior co-housing communities that have been planned to cater specifically to adults of a certain age who are living in co-housing situations. The Cohousing Association of the United States reports there are more than 160 of these communities across the U.S. today, with 130 more in development. "A cleaning service will do multiple homes on a block or a home care company will have multiple clients in a small radius," Johansen says. Grocery or meal delivery services might work with all the residents in a certain neighborhood to improve efficiencies.
For many seniors, that financial piece may play the biggest role in pointing them toward co-housing as their best option, says Roxanne Sorensen, an aging life care specialist and owner of Elder Care Solutions of WNY in Rochester, New York, a case management consultancy. Sorensen says that as older adults live longer, finding an affordable housing option that fits their needs is a challenge that co-housing might be able to help address. "Why not take the model of developmentally disabled group homes and mimic that for seniors?" she asks. By moving several seniors into one home rather than each living alone, that will reduce the cost of procuring home health staff while perhaps also reducing loneliness.
In addition, Sorensen says changes to federal programs such as Medicaid may make co-housing a more attractive option in the future. "The funding keeps drying up. Every time they do something to Medicaid it affects the seniors" and the level of care they can afford. "The people who have paid into the system like the elderly, they shouldn't be penalized," but she says reforms to federal benefits programs like Medicare and Medicaid could curtail their ability to live out their golden years the way they want.
There are lots of reasons why an older adult might find him or herself feeling isolated or lonely. For one, divorce among seniors is on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, since the 1990s, the divorce rate among adults aged 50 and over (so-called "gray divorce") has more than doubled. For others, death leaves the surviving spouse living alone. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 28 percent of people aged 65 or older lived alone when the census was conducted in 2010. And these individuals are more likely to be female, given that women's life expectancy is 81.2 years versus 76.4 years for men. (Life expectancy in the U.S. has been following a downward trend over the past several years, with an editorial in The BMJ reporting the cause being despair resulting in increased suicide and substance abuse.)
Social isolation and loneliness are associated with higher mortality in older adults, and senior co-housing might be an option for alleviating some of this isolation. Simply living with another person or people – especially if you have shared experiences or other things in common – can provide a wonderful opportunity to socialize and feel part of something bigger than yourself. Who wouldn't want to live with friends? Much like any other shared housing arrangement, this one can yield a new partner or friend with whom to have adventures and good times.
Disadvantages of Senior Co-Housing
There can also be a downside to senior co-housing. As with any roommate situation, conflicts can crop up over everything from dishes in the sink to household expenses. And as vexing as such discord can be when you're in your 20s, it may be compounded later in life by health issues and other age-related factors such as cognitive deficits or reduced mobility. "The bandwidth of dealing with the ramifications if you get into a bad situation tend to be overwhelming. That's the deterrent that has kept this from being a larger portion of what we're seeing in the marketplace in general," Johansen says.
One way to reduce the chances of having a bad match is to carefully select your living partners and to set out all expectations clearly and in writing right from the outset. "If they're going to go into a co-housing situation, the homeowner really needs to take the time and expense to get a rental agreement drawn up," Johansen says. That agreement should call out the specific needs that each senior has and wants to ensure are met.
In addition, when searching for the right roommate for this type of situation, taking a "common-sense" approach to safety should be paramount. "Be smart about how you approach it. Have the initial interviews outside of the home so you can meet somebody and not be inviting people to come into the home." If a child or other loved one is available to assist during this screening process, Johansen says that can help increase safety and the selection of the right co-housing partner or partners.
"The challenge to senior co-housing is it's not a very well developed network, so oftentimes people are having to seek out roommates via more traditional means," such as posting an ad on Craigslist or another roommate search service. Johansen says some services are starting to spring up to cater to this trend, such as Senior Homeshares and the Golden Girls Network. Similar to other roommate matching websites, these services seek to connect compatible seniors to share a home. Senior centers can also be a good way of finding people to share your home with.
The key is to "find that right roommate who's going to add to the experience rather than detract from it," Johansen says, noting that "the downsides are that if a senior moves in with another senior and both are challenged in similar ways, that can be a problem." On the other end of the spectrum "if one has higher needs than another, then one of the two ends up sometimes being the caregiver, which may not be what they wanted or signed up to do."
As with any roommate situation, "you run the risk of getting someone in the home who's not trustworthy, whether that be from a financial standpoint or a danger in another way," such as elder abuse, Johansen says. "Seniors opening up their homes to others can be problematic and risky," so it's important to proceed carefully if you're planning to pursue this option, as making a bad selection could actually lead to increased isolation for the homeowner, rather than the intended connection. "If you get the right person, that can be a great thing. If you don't, it can almost be more isolating to the senior who has the home because if there isn't a good fit, they tend to retreat to their respective spaces within the home and it has the opposite effect."
This is where a larger community might offer a better option for certain individuals, because in a larger community "you're always able to find a small group of people that you resonate with and have a shared interest with versus trying to seek that out with one or two individuals. It's part of the human condition just magnified when you're a senior and have other challenges," Johansen says. Still these arrangements can work with careful vetting, and Johansen recommends having structured activities or a connection to a nearby senior center to help improve the socialization aspect of living with other seniors.
This is where a larger community might offer a better option for certain individuals, because in a larger community "you're always able to find a small group of people that you resonate with and have a shared interest with versus trying to seek that out with.
These relationships can take a range of different forms and the details of how you slice up costs and responsibilities will vary widely based on who you're living with. In all cases, Johansen recommends considering what you're missing and what you want to get from a co-housing relationship to help guide you and find the right match. "If I'm a senior and I own my home but I'm no longer able to drive and therefore I don't get that interaction, am I looking for somebody who's still driving and someone socially engaged who can provide that link to me?"
For some seniors, "the finances are the biggest driver, and therefore I don't have a lot of those other softer needs. Rather I want to make sure I set the right price and we talk about who's responsible for what financially. Who's going to buy the food and pay for the electricity?" Johansen says it's important in all cases to get the financial details spelled out and to ensure that all members of the co-housing situation "understand clearly what the priorities are and set up arrangements to make sure their needs are met."
Despite the potential pitfalls, Sorensen says she thinks the co-housing trend is here to stay. "Some people don't want to be in a huge institution or a nursing home. If I'm in a five-person house, I'm home, right? And I still have the care I need." Sorensen says she thinks this approach is going to only grow in popularity in the coming years, as the baby boomer generation ages. "I would love to see it going that way. I think it's going to happen little by little, because I think that's what boomers want."
THIS ARTICLE WAS COPIED FROM The National Association of Realtors Senior Real Estate Specialist Newsletter.........and was written by Elaine K. Howley.........I thought she did a much better job than I could on this topic.
If you want to look at POSSIBLE CO-HOUSES or any other real estate, CALL ME Pam Furst 843-509-5200 email@example.com www.SeniorLivingInCharleston.com