What's Cohousing for Seniors? Meaning, Pros + Cons

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Many innovative options for senior housing have been emerging over the past few years. Traditional options like moving into an assisted living facility or senior living community still exist, but a majority of older adults are looking to age in place, particularly in the comfort of their own homes and communities, which is what you may find in a cohousing community for seniors.

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However, being able to successfully age in place throughout later life can be challenging, especially for those who live alone and for those with health issues. Several new home and community-based care options have become popular among aging individuals, such as cohousing.

What’s a Senior Cohousing Community?

There are several different definitions of cohousing but on the whole, cohousing is defined as older individuals sharing living spaces with others. It’s a living style where you share space, time, and resources with others that may not be of your family.

Although it has become a recent trend among seniors, cohousing is not a new concept. It’s also more common in certain places around the world. The concept can apply to a number of settings and scenarios. Some cohousing is more structured, while others are very informal in nature.

There are cohousing options exclusively designed for older residents. In other cases, older residents create a planned community that they run together and collectively help each other out. Other options are intergenerational.

The term “cohousing” can also loosely refer to living under one roof with others in a house itself, perhaps with a spouse, child, or friend. It could also refer to a group of friends who are older and decide to buy or rent a property together. 

Cohousing has benefits for all walks and ages of life, but for seniors specifically, there are many advantages. That’s because as we grow older, we may be more likely to live alone. Children move out of the house, experience spousal loss, or go through the deaths of other loved ones.

In general, older adults’ social circles become much smaller, and their likelihood of experiencing loneliness and social isolation increases. Advancing age also comes with many declines in health and functionality. This makes it much more difficult for older adults to age in place completely independently. 

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Difference Between Cohousing and Other Options

Cohousing is often confused with a growing number of other senior housing and care options. Unlike assisted living facilities and nursing homes, cohousing doesn't involve specific medical supports, such as nurses or dementia care. If medical care is needed, neighbors can help neighbors. Or, some folks can bring in-home care aides to assist with whatever they need. Unlike many retirement communities, cohousing communities are generally self-managed.

Cohousing is also not just for seniors. Many retirement communities these days have an age requirement of 55 and older, for example. With that being said, cohousing for seniors can also be intergenerational, where seniors can benefit from living with different generations of people.

Intergenerational cohousing has become popular among older adults and students alike. There are also hundreds of structured cohousing communities nationwide that exist for older adults that are gaining more and more popularity around the world as well.

What are the Pros and Cons of Senior Cohousing?

There are many factors you should weigh before coming to a conclusion about cohousing. Your decision will also depend on what kind of cohousing approach you’d like to take. Discussed below are a few major advantages and disadvantages of cohousing communities for seniors. 

Pros

  • Less expensive. When living alone, individuals spend nearly one-third of their income on housing. Cohousing offers a much more affordable housing option for seniors. In addition, sharing things can help reduce costs and save money more generally. For example, if you’re moving in with a friend you won’t be needing two lawnmowers or two toasters. Additionally, cooking meals together can be more efficient. Depending on the number of residents in the cohousing community you may also be able to buy more items in bulk.
  • Built-in social support. Sharing space also means sharing time and having opportunities to share a meal together, converse, or spend leisure time. More structured senior cohousing communities actually require that individuals come together for particular meetings, meals, or events. Others are more informal or happen less often.
  • Sharing resources. Another benefit of cohousing is that individuals bring their own talents, skills, and abilities. Maybe one person likes to cook or can teach you a new hobby/skill. You’ll also be able to share your talents and/or skills with them.
  • Increased confidence to age in place. Research shows that older adults who live in cohousing communities report greater confidence to age in place, rather than anticipate moving into a long-term care facility. Residents of cohousing units are also often healthier and more physically active.  

Cons

  • Privacy. Sharing space with someone can be challenging. Especially if you have lived on your own for a while. It will take time to get used to others’ schedules and how people like to spend their time.
  • Sharing. No one wants their belongings to be misused or mistreated. If there are certain belongings that are especially important to you, you may want to either keep them in your own personal space. It’s also a good idea to discuss what items will be shared at the beginning of the arrangement so there isn’t confusion. Sharing space also means sharing responsibilities such as cleaning the dishes or the common space. Developing a cleaning schedule can help you with this, but it’s another important factor to discuss early on in the arrangement to avoid any arguments or animosity.
  • Compromise. Sharing the same living corridors will mean that you may have to give up some of your independence to make room for the other person and their things. When you are starting a cohousing situation with someone, it’s always best to sit down and discuss how you both will respect each other’s space, belongings, and privacy. And remember, people have different ways of living, different schedules, and different preferences.
  • Socialization and participation. Human beings are social creatures. But, some people prefer more socialization than others. If participating in shared activities is not something you enjoy, cohousing may not be the right fit for you. It also will be important for you to either know the people you will be living with or get to know them beforehand. 
  • Medical needs. Some seniors may have health declines or conditions that make this kind of community living difficult. Some cohousing communities require that people gather for certain activities and meetings. If you’re not able to find other arrangements for care to come to you, cohousing may not be the best solution for you. There are however a number of other options on the long-term care side of things that will be able to provide you with more medical attention and care.

How Do You Pick the Best Senior Cohousing Community?

Once you’ve decided that cohousing is a good option for you, you may wonder how to go about putting your plan into action. Talking to residents in structured senior cohousing communities is always a good idea. You also may want to schedule an in-person visit to see the housing style first hand.

Below are a few key questions to consider when creating your checklist.

  • Is location important to you?
  • What are your needs?
  • Do you want to remain in your current community?
  • How important is structure to you?
  • Are you willing to participate in shared group activities?
  • What are the participation requirements of the community?
  • How much space do you need to live comfortably? 

If you’re not able to locate any cohousing communities in your area you can also create your own! There are a few websites that offer information on how to start a new one.

Thinking About Cohousing For You or a Loved One

Whether you’ve thought about specific cohousing communities you’d like to move into or never heard of cohousing until reading this blog, it’s important to be proactive about your future and aging experience. You may not have specifics yet, but you can start thinking about the environment you’d like to grow older in and identify key aspects that are important to you. 

Talk with your friends, neighbors, and family members about what supports they have thought about and what options may work best for you. There are also many useful books on aging that cover housing arrangements and long-term care options. It’s never too early to start thinking about your future.

If you're looking for more on senior living, read our guides on the best alternatives to assisted living and senior housing options.


Sources

  1. Can Cohousing Communities Help Generate a More Sustainable Economy? Communities, (133), 21. Morris, B. (2006). 
  2. Cohousing for whom? Survey evidence to support the diffusion of socially and spatially integrated housing in the United States. Housing Policy Debate, 28(5), 653-667. Boyer, R. H., & Leland, S. (2018). 
  3. The Characteristics in the Planning Process of Co-housing: Modification of Plans by Residents' Participation-Case of Co-housing Built by a Coordination Company in Seongmisan Village. Journal of the Korean housing association, 24(4), 61-73. Park, K. O., Lee, S. U., & Ryu, H. S. (2013). 
  4. Towards a deeper understanding of the social architecture of co-housing: evidence from the UK, USA and Australia. Urban research & practice, 8(1), 93-105. Jarvis, H. (2015). 
  5. Cohousing‐social impacts and major implementation challenges. GAIA-Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 28(1), 233-239. Hacke, U., Müller, K., & Dütschke, E. (2019). 

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