In my work with families who are placing a loved one in a care community, I am often asked about the future of long term care. Many people I talk with are uncomfortable with the concept of long term care for themselves but think it’s adequate for their parents. I have good news and bad news: There is an alternative to long term care options known as Elder cohousing, but don’t expect it to show up in your neighborhood anytime soon.
The cohousing model was adopted from Denmark and migrated to the US in 1988. Initially conceived as multi-generational cohousing, neighbors adopted rules and built structures that allowed them to live supportively with one another, sharing common facilities and incorporating non-hierarchical decision-making, two of the six main characteristics that all cohousing communities share. Now, a similar concept, Elder cohousing, is becoming more popular with the 50 and older crowd in the US. Elder cohousing is an environmentally sustainable alternative to the existing models of housing for boomers and elders alike who yearn for their independence within a supportive community environment.
There are three elder cohousing projects that have been completed in the US. The three lucky states are Virginia, California, and Colorado. To date, there are eight elder cohousing projects actively underway according to Eldercohousing.org. Some communities are spearheaded by a group of friends or neighbors; others are formed by a few members who then recruit other future “neighbors” for investment and participation.
Studies suggest that people remain healthier and may live more independently if they have strong community ties. Cohousing fits this prescription perfectly as each member of a cohousing project has duties and contributions they are expected to provide. In one cohousing community, members’ professions included the following:
* Architect and Project Manager
* Technical illustrator/painter/sculptor
* Retired English professor
* Financial planner
* Retired businessman
* Social services for youth in prison.
If a member of an elder cohousing project needs care at some point in their journey, they continue to live at the site for as long as possible. Members are expected to help provide for one another; some will hire in-home care or employ caregivers for those who are in need. In the event that a member needs to live in a long term care community, members of the elder cooperative will continue to remain a part of the member’s life. This allows members to age in place for as long as possible, decreasing the financial, psychosocial, and health burden of the individual.
If you would like to learn more about elder cohousing, or how to form your own cohousing project, visit www.eldercohousing.org.
Amie Clark, Founder, The Senior List