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Posted: January 26, 2005

Professional Caregiving

Co-Housing -- An Option in Caring for our Seniors

It?s a wintry Sunday afternoon, I have a steaming cup of coffee sitting on my desk, and I begin reading the month?s articles I have harvested for springboards to my upcoming columns. Lo and behold, as I am reading the AARP bulletin from November, I discover an article that allows me to follow up from one I wrote a few weeks ago.

As I wrote in The Kibbutz - A Housing Model Worth Looking At on November 24, I likened my vision of the type of community I want to live in when I have retired to be a kibbutz, a socialistic-designed community created and continually evolving in Israel. This model is very attractive to me because the intent of the model is to give each person the necessary support, while asking of each person to give back by sharing their particular skills.

What surprised me in my reading was the AARP article entitled Communes for Grownups in which the author, Ben Brown, suggests a re-examination of choices we make in our later years and cites some examples of certain types of communities. I had referred to them as intentional, and he refers to them as co-housing developments. These are developments in which residents plan their community and its appearance. They divide the duties among all the residents, rotating responsibilities such as yard work, meal preparation and other chores.

Brown poses the question whether we, as an older community, want to live in communities that we have designed, or that others have designed for us. He suggests that the option that co-housing creates is the development of a neighborhood that matches our vision, our needs and our plan for staying connected as we age.

What I also find delicious in the validation he gave to my suggestion of the kibbutz model, is the plan many of my girlfriends and I have that mimics the co-housing concept. I have seen in my mother?s generation the dying of the husbands as well as the growing number of women in proportion to men in her social group that 20 years ago was primarily couples. Alongside that, the wonderful television sit-com Golden Girls has set the stage for lots of comparisons of choices that illustrate the range of ways we can choose to handle our later years. We jokingly refer to the neighbors in my mother?s condo ? her closest friends -- as the Golden Girls: they check in on each other, cook when the other is not feeling well, share errands and just visit with one another. It?s all very supportive.

All of these pieces come together -- the kibbutz, intentional communities, co-housing and the Golden Girls. They?re all examples of creative ways seniors can prepare for their later years in ways that are most pleasing to them.

Are they seeking companionship? Purposeful living beyond retirement? Shared responsibilities for home maintenance? Chores, that day after day may be too much, but still and all, not something they are ready to give up completely? I?m sure the answers vary.

Brown discusses the particulars of the co-housing concept. ?It is more condo than commune?, he writes, but it also has flipped the relationship between residents and developers. In this model, the residents first come together, establishing the basic tenets of the relationships, rules and design of their community, then they find or hire a developer or realtor who can meet their specifications for customized housing within a tight knit community -- .apartments, condos, townhouses, or homes in a neighborhood.

The models he cites are not cheaper models, as most new concepts first have to make it in the competitive market before government funded options appear. But this is where the tweaking and crunching make for more affordable options in the larger community.

Savings are to be expected in the cooperative nature of the co-housing design. Whether in the living arrangements, sharing of equipment, resources or modes of transportation, this model can be more affordable in new ways. This reminds me of a concept I heard about when my sons were in college in a snow-bound city in Minnesota. Instead of each student needing to purchase their own snow shoes, there were pairs available outside each building on campus. This cooperative arrangement allowed each student to don them, walk to class, remove them and leave them at the entrance for the next student. No one needed their own, if all ?agreed? to share in this way. Brilliant!

Just like snow shoes, sharing among households is possible with bicycles, cars, washing machines, deep freezers and the like, minimizing these expenses and maximizing resources. A community dining room can also enhance the lives of residents who might otherwise suffer from depression and subsequent poor nutrition as is commonly found with isolated seniors who eat alone day after day, month after month.

The folks purposefully choosing this creative design in living seem to be from the mental health, arts and education fields. They are committed to making conscious decisions regarding the design of the way they want to live out the last years of their own lives. Start talking to your peers now about their thoughts on their housing vision in 20 years. What an opportunity for residential design development in our own communities!


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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