Where Will I Live When I Get Older?

Being warehoused in a nursing home is a fate many dread. What are the alternatives for a more dignified elderhood? Where would you want to live?

Photo courtesy Green House Project

The Green House Project is William Thomas' vision of what could replace nursing homes (see his article). These are small residences, either free-standing homes or portions of apartment buildings, housing six to 10 people. The homes are integrated as much as possible into the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Each resident has a room to him or herself, and each room opens onto a central common room for socializing and dining. Long hallways that disable the frail, nursing stations, and medication carts are abolished. Nurses visit as needed, and residents keep medications in their own rooms. Staff are called shahbazim and are intended to serve, in Thomas' words, as “midwives of a new elderhood.” The first four Green Houses opened in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 2004 and others are in the works in Michigan, Nebraska, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina.


Thomas sees Green Houses as a form of intentional community. Because they foster supportive community, intentional living arrangements can be good living options for elders. Intentional communities are based on shared values or goals, such as environmental sustainabilitiy, as in Ithaca Ecovillage, or religious values, examples of which range from the deeply traditional, intergenerational Bruderhof Communities to Pilgrim Place, a California community for politically active retirees from progressive Christian leadership posts.


Among the most promising forms of intentional living is co-housing, which originated in Denmark and was first introduced in the U.S. in Davis, California, in 1991. Residents have their own dwellings that center around extensive common facilities. Now elder-targeted co-housing is taking off in both Denmark and the U.S. Some elder co-housing projects, such as Silver Sage Village in Boulder, Colorado, are situated next to intergenerational projects.

Charles Durrett, an architect who specializes in co-housing, has a forthcoming book on elder co-housing based on his research in Denmark. For workshops on elder co-housing, see www.eldercohousing.org

(the next workshop is September 22–25).


For information on co-housing communities, see www.cohousing.org, and, for intentional community resources more generally, see the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, www.ic.org. While not solely directed at elders, the National Shared Housing Resource Center offers both shared living residences and match-up programs, which help home providers find a compatible home seeker to pay rent or provide services in exchange for a reduction in rent. See www.nationalsharedhousing.org


If you wish to remain in your own home, home health care and other support can help. See www.cms.hhs.gov/pace and www.aarp.org/relationships/family (resources include Housing Choices, Home Design, and, under Caregiving, Finding Help.) Homes can also be designed or retrofitted to suit your needs as you age. See Design for Aging, www.aia.org/dfa.

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