When we plan for our retirement years, nursing homes or living alone with a home health care aid is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind. Unfortunately, however, as much as we dread the thought, there may come a day when our family will be faced with the tough decision of whether or not to move us into a nursing home.
Luckily for us, the world is evolving, and nursing homes might be becoming a thing of the past. How? …Well, something called “senior cohousing” is making its rounds. And we should all be very excited!
What is Senior Cohousing?
Senior cohousing neighborhoods were actually created in Denmark in the early 1960s and brought to North America in 1988. Due to the boomer generation looking for more desirable alternative living arrangements, cohousing has been growing in popularity and has picked up steam in recent years.
A cohousing community is intended to ensure that each senior that lives there can enjoy privacy and have a space of their own (their own house or apartment) while also being able to take advantage of shared spaces.
Essentially, it’s seniors living in their own space, surrounded by THEIR friends who share things like the dining area, library, fitness center, garden, TV room, and more – how exciting!
A Greater Alternative for Seniors
For those looking for a more comfortable and enjoyable way to spend their senior years, cohousing comes with many advantages such as:
1. Greater Quality of Life (Mentally & Emotionally)
Nursing homes can be depressing. Many seniors fear to move into a nursing home because they see it as a final destination before the end of their life. Living in a nursing home can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, a primary cause of poor health among older adults.
2. A Real Community
This is probably the biggest benefit because seniors get to have their OWN friends nearby making it easier to share time and activities. Seniors that live alone face a real risk of loneliness, and a tight-knit community eliminates that risk.
3. More Privacy
Unlike assisted living which puts seniors in close quarters with other residents, senior cohousing provides residents with their own house or apartment!
4. More Affordable
It generally costs much less than nursing homes or assisted living, since seniors share resources with their friends. The sharing concept of senior cohousing can really help ease the financial burden many seniors face.
It’s safer than living alone. For seniors who risk falling in their home and getting stuck there for hours is a huge concern. In a cohousing community, neighbors who anticipate to see you every day will notice if you’re not around.
6. You Have A Say
For seniors that move into cohousing communities, they’re able to sound in on the details of the way it’s being run and any adjustments that get made. Every resident has a voice!
When looking at the downsides of senior cohousing, the only negative we really found was that it doesn’t offer the same level of care as assisted living would.
Though some residents often can get help from their neighbors for smaller needs, like in 70-year old Margaret Critchlow’s case. Margaret had to have hip replacement surgery, and she says:
“When I got home from the hospital, our neighbors made it so easy for my husband and me while I recovered, helping us and providing meals,”
However, not all neighbors can be expected to offer the level of care that assisted living staff, and in-home care aids provide. For seniors who reach a point where they need that special level of care (and who live in a senior cohousing unit) they will need to hire someone to come each day to help.
How Do Nursing Homes Compare To Senior Cohousing?
There are some advantages to nursing homes like access to trained physicians on site. However as we stated above, many people feel that the drawbacks of living in a nursing home hugely outweigh the benefits.
Some Disadvantages of Nursing Homes Include:
1. Astronomical Cost
According to “Cost of Care Survey,” (an annual report published by life insurance company Genworth) nursing homes are the most expensive form of long-term care.
In California, the average rate for a private room runs $307 per day, totaling more than $112,000 per year. If your loved one (or us for that matter) does not have enough retirement savings set aside, then we face a big problem.
2. Poor Mental & Emotional Health
As we stated above, nursing homes can be very depressing for seniors. Leaving the familiarity and comfort of our home and moving into a nursing home can lead to feelings of loss, loneliness, and isolation.
Seniors who manifest feelings of isolation and depression express less optimism regarding their future health and quality of life.
3. Likelihood of Low-Level Care
We’ve all heard the horror stories of poor treatment and neglect in nursing homes. Some reports show that up to 90 percent of nursing homes are understaffed, which causes poor supervision and increases the risk of accidents.
4. Loss of Independence
Older adults who are accustomed to their personal routines can find it hard to adjust to a new schedule in a nursing home. A loss of freedom and independence can cause seniors to lose their self-esteem because they are no longer in control of their own life.
5. Farther Distances
In some cases, a nursing home may not be in close proximity to family members. A long drive to visit on the weekends can take a toll over time. While some nursing home staff do their best to build a sense of community among the residents, it’s still not family. For seniors, a lack of family presence increases feelings of loneliness and depression.
6. Poorer Quality of Food
A tight budget in a nursing home can mean that seniors only get to eat processed meats, frozen vegetables, and canned fruit. Furthermore, seniors can’t buy additional groceries, unless their relatives bring them.
7. Mean Roommates
For many seniors having to share a room, it can be truly awful tolerating another roommate. A 2014 study revealed, fellow nursing home residents can commit abuse.
According to the researchers’ analysis of data collected from 10 nursing homes in New York, the most common types of abuse were:
Verbal abuse – Most of the cases involved residents screaming at other residents.
Physical abuse – Physical assaults such as hitting, kicking or pushing.
Invasion of privacy – Nursing home residents suffer from other residents touching or taking their property without asking and even entering their rooms without permission.
Finding a Senior Cohousing Community
If you think senior cohousing sounds like a wonderful alternative and is, you can out check the senior cohousing directory to find the list of senior cohousing communities in the United States!
If some communities are already be booked up, don’t worry, you can still try checking them out and/or inquire about a waiting list.
According to the National Council on Aging, seniors are driven by a desire for connectedness. For us to be happy and comfortable in our golden years, we really need to maintain our sense of purpose and independence. Senior cohousing really is an exciting alternative to traditional options and provides the chance to stay connected to people and things that matter to us.