As of July 2015, 5.8 million Canadians were 65 and older (16% of the population), according to Statistics Canada. Many are currently healthy but know this will change in the coming decades. Dissatisfied with existing seniors housing options (e.g. traditional residences and nursing homes), seniors want to create a supportive community before their situations change.
Taking an idea that started in Denmark in the early 1960s, aging Canadians are exploring living in individual units in a complex with shared areas like communal kitchens, fostering interaction while respecting privacy. These options include co-housing, co-operatives, communal or shared housing and natural occurring retirement communities (NORC), where an existing neighbourhood evolves into a community of seniors.
What is co-housing?
Initially, all co-housing1 was intergenerational, meaning residents were mostly young families, with a few seniors. Some people call them a return to the best of small-town communities. Others say they are like a traditional village or the close-knit neighbourhood where they grew up, while futurists call them a new response to social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Each holds a piece of the truth.
Co-housing is a concept that came to North America in 1988. Approximately 160 co-housing communities have been completed since 1991 and there are currently more than 100 in various stages of development.
Co-housing residents participate in the planning, design, ongoing management and maintenance of their community, meeting frequently to address each. Co-housing neighbourhoods tend to offer environmentally sensitive design with a pedestrian orientation, typically ranging from 10-35 households emphasizing a multi-generational mix: singles, couples, families with children and elders. The level of social interaction and shared resources varies among communities.
A co-housing development seems limited only by the imagination, desire and resources of the group of people who are actively creating their own neighbourhood, based on democratic principles with a simple desire for a more practical and social home environment.
What are the benefits of shared housing?
Shared housing for seniors could keep aging minds healthy.2
“I think it’s a fantastic idea for maintaining social connectedness as we get older,” said Dr. Nicole Anderson, a clinical neuropsychologist and Senior Scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.
“A lack of social connection and support is linked to a whole host of negative outcomes,” explained Anderson, including depression, poor health and a lower quality of life. “Those who lack social connections are also at higher risk for dementia,” says Anderson, as well as reduced cognitive ability. “Having somebody there in close proximity when you need some help or some support is fantastic.”
Interest is likely to grow as the population ages and the increasing willingness of residents to live closely together reflects growing confidence in the co-housing concept, as people recognize its benefits and learn from existing communities.
For more information on cohousing, please visit Canadian Cohousing Network.
2Housemates wanted: a new vision for seniors housing, Lorenda Reddekopp, CBC News, Nov 14, 2016.
3Quebec’s eldercare challenge: Embracing independence, Marian Scott, Montreal Gazette, October 23, 2015.